Public arts funding update: May

FEDERAL

The IRS and Treasury Department are finally starting to bring some clarity to program related investments, releasing a rule that represents the first update in 40 years to the language describing how these financial instruments can be used. Unfortunately, the one arts example in the mix describes a 501(c)(4) ”social welfare” organization, rather than the more standard 501(c)(3) nonprofit. This is a little worrisome given that the arts aren’t actually mentioned as one of the categories in the tax code that qualify for tax-exempt status, and 501(c)(4)s are not able to provide a tax deduction to donors.

Elizabeth Quaglieri describes the Obama administration’s Turnaround Arts Initiative, a pilot program spearheaded by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the Turnaround Arts Initiative provides arts curriculum resources and the attention of celebrity artists to eight struggling “turnaround schools” across the country. The arts materials are designed to be thoroughly integrated into the schools’ turnaround effort, and the whole shebang will be evaluated by Booz Allen Hamilton after a two-year trial.

STATE

Obviously, the big news of the month was Kansas getting its arts council back, reported here on Friday. Elsewhere, the news is mostly decent. New Hampshire arts advocates were successful in turning back a threat to the state’s Department of Cultural Resources and public art fund by mobilizing more than 100 business leaders, artists, teachers, economic development officials, and others to attend a public hearing, impressive for a small state. A somewhat controversial plan in Connecticut to replace line item funding for arts organizations with a competitive pool also ended up going nowhere. I have mixed feelings about this one – I get that you don’t want to expose institutions to major financial risk on short notice, but as a general practice I think line items for specific arts organizations are pretty undemocratic (because the organizations with the resources to procure them tend to be on the richer side anyway) and bad policy (because the line items are not subject to any kind of centralized performance review by industry professionals who know what they’re doing).

This is slightly old news, but the New York State Council on the Arts reversed the trend of the past four years and came out of the latest budget process with a $4 million increase, to $35.6 million. NYSCA remains the best-funded state arts council in the nation.

LOCAL

The Washington, DC city council has given preliminary approval to an increase in the budget of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities from $3.9 million to $11.9 million. That sounds a lot better than it actually is; the increase just partially makes up for a combined loss of over $16 million from the DCCAH and the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs program over the past couple of years.

INTERNATIONAL

England cut funding to arts groups two years ago, and the Brits apparently aren’t missing it too much. A survey reports that support for public funding for the arts has dropped from 52% to 44% since 2009. Meanwhile, Scotland’s arts council is moving many of its arts groups to short-term, project funding in an effort to get more mileage out of its shrinking budget.

The Australia Council for the Arts has just completed a five-month review process, its first in two decades, and the results are making some waves. The review advocates that the Council reform its “rigid” structure that silos arts grantmaking by discipline, and also put up much more of its funds for competition as opposed to guaranteeing money to specific institutions. Interestingly, it puts this move under the rubric of emphasizing “excellence,” whereas in the United States that word is typically code for the larger, established organizations.

Turkey has become the latest battleground for the arts and government censorship, with conservative Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan taking a hostile stance to Turkey’s theatrical community after performances of a Chilean play sparked controversy in Istanbul. The events led to Istanbul’s Islamist mayor taking over decision-making for the city-funded theater troupe that staged the play. Supporting that move, Erdogan also threatened to cut off state funding to Turkey’s theater companies in response to protests and resignations by artists pushing for freedom of speech. The bad vibes apparently date back at least to a performance of a different play when Erdogan’s daughter found herself the involuntary recipient of an onstage actor’s attention during an improvised scene and subsequently walked out of the show. That incident led to the actor, who claimed he didn’t know that the young woman in the front row wearing a headscarf was Erdogan’s daughter, being suspended and brought before the country’s minister of culture to explain himself.

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One Comment

  1. Anonymous
    Posted June 4th, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    You might want to chat with some local and regional arts activists before cheering NYSCA’s extra $4 million. Although we’re always happy when there’s more money appropriated for arts and culture, these funds are actually economic development monies, and projects must be worth a minimum of $100,000 (the minimum grant request is $50,000 and projects require a 50% match). This large project price tag effectively eliminates small and medium sized organizations from competing. The grant award process is also suspect, with final decisions not being made by a representative panel at NYSCA, but by the Governor’s office. It’s expected that most projects funded through this program will be tourism related and will benefit primarily large “destinations” and not small, community-based artists or arts and cultural organizations.

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