Continuing a recent trend, the news from abroad is much more interesting than what’s happening here at home. Below, the round-up:
Beyond the official departure of Rocco, it’s been a slow news season at the federal level for the arts. One series of developments, however, has involved the Internet Radio Fairness Act, or IRFA. If you listen to Pandora (as I do), you might have heard advertisements in the fall urging action on this bill, which would lower what Pandora claims are high rates it has to pay to rightsholders in order to broadcast their music. Trouble is, the royalties that artists actually receive from Pandora and other streaming services are already extremely shitty, so as you can imagine artists aren’t a huge fan of this one. After a hearing that didn’t go well for IRFA, the bill is shelved for now – but may be re-introduced under a new name this year.
STATE AND LOCAL
Appropriations season has begun for state arts councils, and we are getting an early look into how things might go this spring through the stories that are developing now. Overall, there’s some of the usual attempts to cut budgets, but they don’t seem to have the same teeth as in previous years. Two years after Kansas temporarily zeroed out the budget for its arts council, a proposal to gradually eliminate funding for the state arts council in neighboring Oklahoma is thankfully dead in the water. In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley is trying to mess with the state arts commission yet again, though she has given up on doing away with the agency’s grant budget and only wants to get rid of its staffing (how she expects the grants to get awarded without a staff is anyone’s guess). And the California Arts Council is set to lose about $160,000 per year it was getting from donations via California taxpayers’ tax returns.
Meanwhile, as we know, states support the arts through other means besides direct funding. For years, many states have offered tax credit to lure film studios; now, several are trying to do the same with Broadway productions. Illinois passed a law just over a year ago allowing shows such as the Cyndi Lauper musical “Kinky Boots” to receive a tax credit for previewing in the state before hitting New York. Louisiana and Rhode Island have similar legislation on the books. Now Massachusetts wants in on the act as well, though Jeff Jacoby sees trouble down that road.
On the local front, after a millage (property tax) measure to support public art in Ann Arbor failed in November, the city council has voted to suspend the existing public art program so that it can be retooled, hopefully to allow more flexibility in how the funds are spent. At Oregon Arts Watch, Barry Johnson gives an incredibly in-depth account of how Portland’s more successful ballot initiative came to pass (literally) – a must-read for anyone involved in arts advocacy. And ticket sellers take note: Maryland’s highest court has ruled that Ticketmaster’s annoying service fees amount to scalping – in violation of a Baltimore ordinance outlawing the sale of tickets above their face value.
Great news coming from Toronto, as a billboard tax that advocates have long sought is now going to be diverted toward the city’s arts funding. The tax will eventually bring in $22.5 million per year, boosting the city’s cultural budget by nearly 50% over current levels. It probably doesn’t hurt that arts funding enjoys overwhelming support in Canada, with 87% of respondents to a recent poll saying that government should place a “moderate amount” to a “great deal” of importance on the arts.
Over in merry England, though, things remain chaotic. Arts Council England’s budget will fall £11.6 million between now and 2015, on top of much more drastic cuts enacted in 2010. Meanwhile, multiple cultural leaders in the UK are under fire from the arts community there, including British Culture Secretary Maria Miller. A backlash against the policies of Creative Scotland got so bad that its head, Andrew Dixon, resigned in disgrace. Through it all, England’s cities are facing crushing budget crises: Somerset has already cut its entire culture budget and Westminster is threatening to do the same. The biggest city to contemplate 100% cuts to arts funding was Newcastle, but shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman has stepped in at the 11th hour to prevent that from happening.
Further afield on the Continent, the Netherlands’ arts scene is reeling from budget cuts totaling €470 million, a huge amount for this tiny country. According to the article, “about 40 of the 120 cultural arts organizations in the country became ineligible for federal grants this year. Some of them have been able to secure financing from other sources, but at least two dozen had to fold at the beginning of the year.” Head-scratching policies include a rule that no more than one dance company can be supported per city, leading to the closure of the country’s premier modern dance group, Dansgroep Amsterdam. But hey, at least a tattooed composer and performing arts professor ran fifth in the presidential election of the country that brought you Vaclav Havel!
Recently, Brazil made headlines by promoting a new government policy that gives workers earning up to five times the minimum wage the equivalent of $25 a month to spend on cultural purchases. Ninety percent of the bill is footed by the employer, with the remaining 10% coming out of the worker’s pocket, so it’s like one of those Groupons where you pay $2.50 for a $25 gift card. (The employer expenses are offset 1:1 by tax credits, so it’s still effectively a government subsidy.) The workers really do get a card, which is controlled so that it can only be spent on cultural purchases. Joe Patti wonders why something like this couldn’t work in the United States, although Maria Vlachou isn’t convinced the measure is solving the right problem. For my part, the idea reminds me of my old proposal for income-sensitive tickets (that I think is perhaps worth a revisit).
Finally, we’d written previously about the ongoing tragedy in Mali as Islamist militants took over much of the northern part of the country, threatening artists and destroying cultural heritage sites. Thanks to France’s military intervention, the rebels were driven out of the ancient city of Timbuktu last month, but not before they set fire to two libraries containing thousands of manuscripts from medieval times. The materials presumed destroyed include an ancient history of West Africa and texts on astronomy, poetry and medicine dating back to 1204. There are lots of items that survived the conflict because they were hidden away from the rebels, but it’s still a terrible loss. Meanwhile, UNESCO has announced that it will help to rebuild Timbuktu’s destroyed mausoleums using local mud-based materials and the buildings’ original plans.