After a long lull, we’re starting to see some action on the arts and related topics at the federal level. First, the House and Senate have passed a continuing resolution enshrining the “sequester” cuts in the rest of Fiscal Year 2013, meaning that the National Endowment for the Arts and other federal agencies are sustaining a 5% decline from their originally enacted budgets. For the NEA, this means that the new budget is approximately $139 million instead of $146 million, which puts it at the lowest level since George W. Bush was president. (At the first link above, Americans for the Arts has a short video touting the importance of getting involved in Arts Advocacy Day. It’s nicely put together, but as with other videos of this type I can’t help but feel the message might be more compelling if it were accompanied by some music that the NEA actually funded.)
Second, President Obama has released his FY14 budget request. While this still needs to get through Congress, it’s significant in that it sets a likely upper bound for the budgetary appropriations of various arts-related agencies. The LA Times’s Mike Boehm reports that Obama’s budget is relatively generous to those agencies compared to previous years, providing a 4.5% increase in the aggregate above the pre-sequestration levels. The budget allocates $154.5 million to the NEA, which is right about what Americans for the Arts was pushing for but is still well below peak levels. The Smithsonian and National Gallery of Art do relatively well under the President’s proposal, while the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Kennedy Center get lower priority. Despite the reasonably good news, Obama’s budget request also brings back a much-derided proposal to cap deductions at 28% of adjusted gross income – including the charitable deduction. (More on the charitable deduction later this week.) Watch AFTA President Bob Lynch discuss the budget proposal on PBS here.
In non-appropriations-related items, the Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 in favor of Supap Kurtsaeng, the Cornell math student who made bank by reselling Wiley textbooks purchased overseas at a cheaper price, thus preserving what’s known as the first-sale doctrine in copyright law (i.e., that you’re free to sell used items without first getting permission from the copyright owner). An ongoing legal battle between network television broadcasters and a startup called Aereo, which uses micro-sized antennas to rebroadcast over-the-air content to tablets and smartphones for a monthly fee, could have implications for internet TV more generally. Amidst all this, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has announced his retirement from his influential position affecting issues like low-power radio and net neutrality; Future of Music Coalition issues a statement on his departure, and as a bonus offers a review of Maria Pallante’s appearance before the US House to testify about potential updates to the Copyright Act. Finally, many of the critical measures in the America Invents Act patent reform legislation went into effect earlier this month; Keith Sawyer offers some analysis.
STATE AND LOCAL
This isn’t quite “news” since it’s still highly speculative, but for the first time in several years, there is a serious bid afoot to restore the California Arts Council to its former glory. The CAC had its budget cut by 94% a decade ago in the face of financial pressures on the state budget, and has languished among the worst-funded state arts councils per capita ever since. AB 580, sponsored by lawmaker Adrin Nazarian, is a bid to raise the CAC’s state appropriation from $1 million to an eye-popping $75 million, which would easily take the prize for biggest state arts funding story of the year if successful. California’s budgetary situation is arguably no better than it was when the CAC was cut in the first place, but arts advocates are hoping that Governor Jerry Brown, under whose leadership the Arts Council was brought into being back in 1975, will be the difference between this effort and three previous ones that failed (the most recent in 2009). I enjoyed this excerpt from the article:
At the hearing Tuesday, John Gallogly, executive director of L.A.’s Theatre West and a board member of the statewide advocacy group Californians for the Arts, presented each committee member with a crayon that cost 3 cents — the amount per resident that he said state government now funnels to the Arts Council if the federal and license plate money are excluded.
“We’re trying to say ‘give us a small box of crayons,’” instead of just one, Gallogly said. “You can’t create a rainbow with just one color.”
In other state news, the newly reorganized Connecticut Office of the Arts is receiving some bad press from the Connecticut Mirror. A number of arts organizations are apparently unhappy with the new creative-placemaking-oriented system for awarding grants, which relies on a cumbersome application process and out-of-state panelists who evaluate the proposals asynchronously. And Washington State has hit venues where patrons “are given the opportunity to dance” with thousands of dollars in back taxes on the basis of an obscure law dating from the 1960s that hadn’t been enforced in decades.
With the economy now four years removed from the official end of the Great Recession, we’re starting to see some recovery in local government budgets and with it, some welcome increases in arts funding revenue streams – particularly in the West. In Nevada, Clark County (which contains Las Vegas) voted to create a Percent for Art program for the first time, which will “divert 5 percent of annual room tax collections and 5 percent of the county’s share of property taxes into the Arts Fund, not to exceed $1.25 million.” In Utah’s Salt Lake City, increased tax revenues have boosted city arts funding by 14% over last year. California’s San Bernadino County, part of the fast-growing Inland Empire region, lost its arts council in 2006, but as of this year it’s back, with a budget of almost $300,000. And in Atlanta, mayor Kasim Reed seems to be proposing a 25% increase in the budget for the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, though no one seems sure exactly what he means by that.
Meanwhile, the LA Unified School District has declared the arts a core subject for its 660,000 students but is finding that the devil is in the details, and things have gotten so bad in the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra labor dispute that the Mayor’s office has gotten directly involved in the negotiations – though to no avail as yet.
What a bizarre story from Australia: just 11 days after arts minister Simon Crean unveiled the country’s new cultural policy to great acclaim, he is out of a job following a failed coup attempt aimed at Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Crean’s departure leaves the new plans in significant doubt, despite the fanfare with which they were announced. Ben Eltham has more.
Elsewhere, the news is still mostly bad but at least it’s letting up a bit. Arts Council England is taking it on the chin with yet more cuts, this time of just over 1%. In Spain, where the arts community has been deeply affected by austerity measures, arts groups are coming up with some innovative ways of coping – for example, by handing patrons carrots instead of tickets to protest/get around a punishing 21% sales tax on the latter. And in Romania, a national museum has had to partially shut its doors due to a lack of funds.