Normally, this would be the time of year when things start to wind down on the arts advocacy front, but the peculiar dynamics of this year’s Congress promise to keep things interesting well into the fall. Consideration of the FY13 budget has only just begun, and once again, a state arts agency faces a veto threat.
Looking forward to Congress’s “lame duck” session after elections this November, Americans for the Arts projects choppy waters ahead for the arts. Indeed, the fun has already started with a proposal from the House of Representatives Interior Subcommittee to cut the NEA’s current appropriation by $14 million to $132 million. At least this means we won’t be fighting over whether the NEA should exist at all this year, but the proposed 9.8% cut comes on top of a 13% cut from the agency’s recent high water mark of $167.5 million. It looks like conservatives are pursuing a strategy to gradually chip away at the Endowment’s appropriations base, figuring that a 10% cut here or there isn’t likely to arouse public outrage but will still further ideological goals.
The Supreme Court had a busy month. You’ve heard, of course about its ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Adam Huttler (head honcho at Fractured Atlas, where I work) came out and praised the Supremes’ 5-4 decision upholding the act as a victory for artists, who are likely a bellwether for the 21st-century knowledge worker: mobile, untethered, and most importantly, self-employed. But the Supreme Court decided some other cases as well, and the Future of Music Coalition weighs in on one of them, in which the Court ruled that Fox and friends don’t have to pay indecency fines for failing to bleep out swearing on a live broadcast and some nudity on an episode of NYPD Blue.
The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA)’s annual appropriations report is out, and after four straight years of declines that saw appropriations to state arts councils drop by more than a quarter, it appears the corner has finally been turned. For Fiscal Year 2013, state arts agencies will receive 8.8% more money than in FY12, with more arts councils seeing increases than decreases. There were still stories of hardship and difficulty this year, most notably in Missouri, which survived for a second straight year mainly by drawing down endowment funds; Louisiana, which saw a 12.6% decrease overall; and Utah, which lost $2 million in line item funding. Meanwhile, the poor New Hampshire State Council on the Arts is locked a war of attrition with conservatives and the state now gives less money to its arts council than the US Virgin Islands. But this year, for the first time in a while, there were some astounding successes. In the past we would celebrate when an arts council got a double-digit increase in funding, but this year a few states broke triple digits: an eye-popping bump of 366.8% in Michigan, 178.4% in the District of Columbia (the largest increase in dollar terms at about $7 million), and 109.7% in Florida. And then of course there was the arts council in Kansas being brought back to life as the Creative Arts Industries Commission. (All four of these places had been hit particularly hard in recent years, so these increases are more about getting things back to where they were rather than achieving new heights.) States and territories achieving less dramatic but still important increases include the Northern Marinaras (63%), Ohio (26.3%), and Iowa (21.7%).
Of course, the legislative appropriations process is not completely finished in all states, and unfortunately for the South Carolina Arts Commission, the Palmetto State is one of the laggards. The SCAC had triumphantly reported to NASAA a 26.4% bump in state appropriations, the increase coming mostly from a one-time special infusion of $500,000 on top of the regularly appropriated budget. But for the third time in as many years, South Carolina’s Republican governor exercised line-item veto power to nix all funds for the SCAC. Arts advocates successfully beat back similar vetoes by Governors Nikki Haley and Mark Sanford with the support of overwhelming majorities from their own party in 2010 and 2011. However, this year is a little different because the legislature did not pass a budget before the July 1 start of the fiscal year, meaning that Haley’s veto has the effect of immediately (for now) dismantling the Arts Commission. Meanwhile, the legislature is being called back into session to vote on overriding the vetoes, and the SCAC bills will be taken up on July 17 and 18. Follow the South Carolina Arts Alliance on Facebook for the latest updates. (Barry has more.)
Arts advocates in Atlanta are having a good month. First, Mayor Kasim Reed is proposing to double the city’s direct investment in arts and culture. That would sound more impressive if not for the fact that the new appropriation to the Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs is still not enough to break $1 million, a fairly amount for the “capital of the South.” Meanwhile, the more influential Metropolitan Atlanta Arts and Culture Commission (MAACC) is coming under the umbrella of the Atlanta Regional Commission, a move welcomed by arts advocates because the funding streams for MAACC had become more precarious in recent years. The Commission just, uh, commissioned a creative economy inventory from MAACC whose results are available here.
Canada’s conservative government is seeing the wisdom of supporting the arts, according to an article in the Toronto Globe and Mail. In addition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the article quotes Harper’s Heritages and Official Languages Minister (who is also a Conservative member of parliament from British Columbia) “gushing” about Canada’s vibrant arts industry, which, in his estimation, includes Justin Bieber and Michael Bublé.
Portuguese blogger Maria Vlachou offers up a guest post on Egyptian cultural policy by Reem Kassem, a young cultural activist whose accomplishments are quite impressive. It’s hard to imagine a context more different from the United States than post-Arab Spring Egypt, but much of Kassem’s assessment sounds strangely familiar: “Inevitably, cultural activities are very much centered in Cairo, followed by Alexandria, while the rest of the country is totally ignored. On top of this, traditional forms of cultural activities held in concert halls or conference centers failed to attract new audiences – it’s always the same old faces.” Kassem reports that Egypt’s “underground” arts scene has become very much a part of the revolution against the old order and the new freedoms being sought, and argues that the activation of public space for participatory art will continue to be a critical issue going forward in Egypt.