On Thursday, President Obama announced his intention to nominate Jane Chu for the position of Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Chu, the president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, MO, brings big-institution arts industry experience and a middle-America background to the job. If confirmed, she will become the first Asian American permanent chair of the NEA, although Joan Shigekawa has served that role in an interim capacity for the past year and a half. Reaction from the field has been one of pleasant surprise, but she’s getting rave reviews from back home.
Meanwhile, two of Chu’s predecessors warn that her task will be all about money, money, money. Earlier, in yet another down-to-the-wire process, the United States Congress authorized a spending bill in January covering the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends September 30, 2014. The NEA and other federal cultural agencies were essentially level-funded compared to last year’s appropriations, which is effectively a (small) raise from the amounts each agency had to work with after the so-called sequester kicked in last year. However, the NEA’s budget is still down from its recent peak of $167.5 million from fiscal year 2010, and far below its inflation-adjusted peak from the Carter years.
The budget friction is affecting the arts in other ways, too: for example, the Department of Transportation has failed to meet a deadline to require airlines to accommodate musicians’ instruments on flights because it says Congress didn’t provide it with enough funding to hire the people necessary to write the guidelines. A group of Congressional representatives led by Jim Cooper (D-TN), for its part, is calling BS and asking the DOT to get its act together. Meanwhile, the European Union is moving toward a uniform policy for instruments brought on airplanes.
It’s been a rough 2014 so far for net neutrality. Last month’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals means that cable and telephone companies could privilege certain kinds of content, which could endanger the wealth of artistic innovation on the web. AT&T, for its part, says nothing is about to change – possibly because the decision leaves open other means of regulation that could be worse for internet service providers. In fact, Wired seems to think that the court order has given the FCC carte blanche to regulate the entire internet. Yet if you thought the invisible hand of the market would help secure net neutrality on its own, you might be concerned that America’s largest cable company is buying its second-largest. Time Warner Cable’s proposed merger with Comcast seems to bode ill for open Internet advocates, given that Comcast already has a monthly cap on bandwidth in place; if things continue down this road, a former FCC Commissioner warns of scenarios like cable companies bundling internet content the way that cable channels currently are, and censoring stories about their own terrible customer service. All eyes are on the FCC as it considers its next steps.
STATE AND LOCAL
While Los Angeles awaits the appointment of a head of its department of cultural affairs, new mayor Eric Garcetti met with arts leaders to drop hints on “a more cohesive arts policy” — which apparently does not include any increase in city funding. Meanwhile, alleging mismanagement, Fairfax County in Northern Virginia will pay $30 million to take control of the Lorton Arts Center and avoid foreclosure.
The UK’s Building a Creative Nation has been launched to create 50,000 creative sector jobs for young people ages 16 to 24 by 2016. Part of the initiative aims to combat unpaid internships in the arts industry by subsidizing 6,500 training positions. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg claims the program is “paving the way for a new wave of young British talent,” who will contribute “billions to the economy” in the fastest-growing employment sector of the British economy in 2011-2012. Nearly 1.7 billion Britons (5.6% of the workforce) are employed in the creative industries, more than half of them in squarely cultural areas like the performing and visual arts, film, photography, and publishing.
Not all is rosy in the UK, though: Parliament is investigating the fairness of grants made by Arts Council England, which a report found gives five times as much per capita to London organizations vs. others. Philanthropic dollars are similarly concentrated. (By way of comparison, 82% of private UK arts giving went to London; in the US, according to the Foundation Center’s database, 20% of major grants go to New York State.) That might be part of the reason that space for art in London is now at such a premium. Meanwhile, the Council will require new grantees to capture, report, and share information about audience size and composition and has called on the BBC to collaborate with arts organizations.
Elsewhere in the British Isles, Creative Scotland has announced a new 10-year strategic plan; Wales’s capital city is trying to transfer responsibility for two arts venues to the private sector; Newcastle hasn’t been able to raise any money for a matching fund campaign aimed at private donors; and Irish arts funding is down 7% after having been cut for the sixth consecutive year.
In Spain, four years of funding cuts to the cultural infrastructure by that country’s right-wing and debt-ridden government have increasingly spurred protest, and now the Spanish film community is starting to fight back, claiming political conspiracy. Even Pedro Admodóvar is speaking out against what he calls Spain’s “awful cultural policy.” Elsewhere in Europe, Iceland’s state broadcaster has cut almost half its music staff. But in a bit of good news, regulators in France have decided to reverse a decision that would have raised the import tax on artworks from 7% to 10%, instead reducing it to 5.5%.