Boy, I picked a hell of a year to graduate, didn’t I? I’ve been hearing and reading rumblings all week about how the economy is in a really scary place right now, and blog headlines like “Europe’s entire banking system on the edge of the abyss” don’t do much to put one at ease. So while I keep on keepin’ on with my informational interviews and hope that there will still be an arts industry to work in come May, here’s what came across my desk this week:

  • The New York Times has the inside story of how the $50 million shot in the arm for the NEA came to be saved last week. Apparently none other than Robert Redford got into the act, placing a well-timed phone call to Nancy Pelosi pleading the case. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus, also gets big ups. Meanwhile, good ol’ Chuck Schumer, who voted for that ridiculous amendment prohibiting money in the package from going to a range of recipients including arts centers, zoos, and aquariums, admitted that “he had been unaware that the amendment ruled out money for museums and theaters.” (Incidentally, those zoos and aquariums didn’t fare so well — the language barring them from receiving any of the money is still in there. I guess the Bronx Zoo porcupine will still have to hit the unemployment rolls.)
  • Not good enough, says Greg Sandow in the Wall St. Journal, wondering “if this is such a victory.” Greg’s op-ed has been getting a fair amount of attention, and I hope to write a fuller response this week if I have time.
  • Meanwhile, The Nonprofiteer offered her own well-written take on public funding for the arts not too long ago. She argues that consumption of art, not the creation thereof, should be the focus of advocacy:

    In other words, brethren in the arts community: stop talking about public funding for the arts as if the point were for the public to support YOU. No one cares about you. What we care about as a society is US, and how exposure to what you do will improve us.

    And once you accept that, you have to accept another, equally painful truth, which is that no one can actually determine what’s “art” til at least 25 years after it’s been created. Probably the Nonprofiteer doesn’t need to remind you that people threw things at the stage the first time they saw and heard The Rite of Spring, now part of the musical canon. But what she probably does need to point out is that this doesn’t mean the public should accept and/or fund every objectionable thing it sees in hopes that it will ultimately turn out to be art. Rather, it means that support for creation is a mug’s game, a gamble at which most players lose, and that the public should instead put its money into presentation.

    This excerpt makes her post sound more hostile than it actually is, but I agree with the underlying points here. The arts do not suffer from a creation problem. Far more art, great art, is being created right now than can possibly find a supportive, sustaining audience through existing channels. The Nonprofiteer does not argue that art creation shouldn’t be supported at all, but rather that public support (as distinguished from private philanthropy) should focus on getting those creations to the eyes and ears of the masses. It’s not far off, in fact, from my own vision of an artistic marketplace, one in which the mechanisms of artistic curation and activity are sufficiently subsidized such that talented individual artists don’t need to win fellowships and grants in order to survive, they just need to win the respect of their peers and colleagues.

  • Somehow I missed this the night of, but The Recording Academy’s president and CEO Neil Portnow pimped the Secretary for the Arts idea during the Grammy Awards broadcast.

    And to our new president, we have a request: Our finest national treasure is our culture and the arts. It’s also one of our most embraced and economically significant exports all around the world.

    So it’s time that we acknowledge that fact with the creation of a cabinet position of secretary of the arts to promote and develop this vital contribution to society everywhere.

  • Obama is following through on his campaign promise to create an Office of Urban Affairs, and Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrión has been named its founding director. As a reminder, the Urban Affairs office has “support regional innovation clusters” as one of its prime directives.
  • Speaking of urban affairs, Richard Florida has a LONG article in the Atlantic speculating on how the economic crisis will reshape American cities. A very interesting read.
  • Giorgio Armani is donating $1 million to support art in the New York City public schools.
  • Here’s an interesting experiment: artists selling shares of their work in order to fund its creation, with the interim value determined by a stock index-like metric based on the “social capital” the artist has accumulated. Donors and artists’ incentives are thus aligned in the direction of helping the work find an audience. I know a fair number of people who would gag at this kind of thing, but the b-school student in me is very intrigued.
  • For any nonprofits out there who want a free website, this guy might build one for you if you apply in the next week.

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  • Patrick Daly

    Thanks for sharing the free website giveaway!

  • RLewis

    I really like the idea of “selling shares” of art, but my 501(c)3 requirements make me nervous. Isn’t this strange language that might put a company’s status in jeopardy?

    And we’re all for focusing on audience rather than the artist, but please remind Ms. Nonprofiteer that the stimulus package is a Jobs bill. Isn’t it impossible to make the very good audience argument in context of providing jobs? Or please have her explain to us how, unless she’s advocating that we pay audiences to see the work.