Obviously, the big story this week has been the effort to get the NEA funding through the Senate, which as it stands doesn’t look in very good shape with the Coburn amendment having passed. However, Americans for the Arts is taking out a series of full-page ads in several political newspapers and organizing a letter-writing campaign in an effort to save the day (bottom of post).
Isaac Butler, who wrote the post linked above, also offers some analysis of the situation that I totally agree with, especially this paragraph:
It is, however, a real wake-up call of the cold-water kind to those of us (including myself) who were very optimistic about the arts in the Age of Obama (to be clear, I’m not blaming Obama for this disappointment). The Republicans decided to demagogue every little thing in the bill they could find. They think that funding the arts is wasteful. Actually, let me correct that, they are pretty sure that the American people think funding the arts is wasteful and it would play will so they demagogued the arts. The idea that they sincerely were that riled up over $50 million of funding for anything is pretty laughable on its face.
For sure. This was about embarrassing Obama and the Democrats, and far too many Democrats fell for it. In fact, I spent a little time looking at the transcript (third column, bottom of page) of the testimony from the Senate floor, and as far as I could tell, no one offered a speech in opposition to Coburn’s amendment. By contrast, in addition to giving a very lengthy speech himself, Coburn participated in an elaborate dog-and-pony show with Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) that was clearly pre-coordinated (during a several-minute-long “question” for Coburn, Roberts actually had the gall to quote Homer in support of an amendment designed to gut arts funding from a federal bill). This experience tells us something valuable: namely, that support for the arts among our elected officials, while reasonably broad, is very, very shallow. Absent controversy, we can hope to get some things done — but in the face of even a little bit of pressure, they wilt like dandelions.
Anyway, believe it or not, other stuff was happening this week too. Here’s a sampling:
- The NY Times has a complete list of foundations affected by the Madoff crisis. Some surprising arts-related names on here, including New York’s Avery & Janet Fisher Foundation.
- From happier times, Al Giordano argues for federal arts funding, The Art Newspaper has a lengthy analysis of the arts’ role in Obama’s administration, and the Cleveland Scene picks up the Secretary of the Arts conversation.
- In a surprisingly semi-intelligent column, Fox News argues that the NEA should be converted into an actual endowment, you know, like colleges and foundations have. I don’t agree, but I was surprised that the writer seems to support the arts on balance. (Don’t worry, the commenters hate them just as you’d expect — the world has not completely turned on its head.) [UPDATE: Hmm, apparently the column is by this guy, which explains a lot.]
- My old employer, the American Music Center, has released a study of composers’ livelihoods in collaboration with the Research Center for Arts and Culture at Columbia and the American Composers Forum. The full report is here (pdf).
- The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is offering free consulting to arts organizations in trouble. They have a form for people at other arts organizations to sign up as mentors, but as Michael Kaiser says in the video, “if there is no [match], we’ll do it ourselves.” I find this initiative fascinating. It’s incredibly generous, first of all. Yes, it’s funded by an outside grant (a cool half a million dollars from Adrienne Arsht) but isn’t the Kennedy Center senior staff’s time finite? Aren’t they kind of busy already? I’ll be very interested to see how this plays out. Hopefully it will help a lot of people.