Jane Chu is inching towards nomination as the next NEA Chair, as the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted to approve her candidacy with “no controversy.” Over the past few years, Republicans appear to be content to let the NEA languish in level-funding purgatory rather than continue to whip up the kind of culture-war controversy that proved so successful in handcuffing the agency in the ’90s. Let’s be grateful for small victories.
STATE AND LOCAL
This is the season for state arts council budget drama, and there are certainly a few stories worth reporting. First and foremost is the prospect of an incredible resurgence for the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, which had its budget cut an astonishing 94% over a three-year period and nearly zeroed out in the heady summer of 2009. Since then, arts advocates have slowly moved the needle towards more funding, but nothing compared to the 384% increase the agency would be in line to receive if Governor Rick Scott signs the budget recently passed by the Legislature, restoring funding to pre-recession levels. It’s not a done deal yet, though – Scott has line-item veto power and may be itching to use it.
In somewhat more bittersweet news, after all the brouhaha from last time, Maryland has agreed to increase tax incentives to Media Rights Capital, the producer of Netflix’s House of Cards, settling on $11.5 million to keep the show in the state. The figure does represent a decrease from the average amount the show had received in previous years, but as previously reported the state had to raid a fund intended for local arts organizations to make the deal happen.
On the local front, the Art Newspaper takes stock of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s arts agenda: whereas Bloomberg invested in large-scale projects designed to drive tourism and economic impact, de Blasio appears to be focused on the outer boroughs, access, and community engagement. Meanwhile, de Blasio’s first budget for New York City is out, and with a 6% overall increase in spending gives educators a lot to be happy about: steps toward universal pre-K, expanded after-school programs and a $20 million allocation for arts education.
Los Angeles may be on the verge of overhauling its public art ordinance, thanks to an audit that recommends the city relax the requirement that developers’ public art fees be spent within one block of the constructions that generated them. Paralyzed by the geographical restriction, the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs had been sitting on $7.5 million in funds earmarked for public artwork.
Any cities or counties pondering local tax increases for arts and culture, take note: the ultraconservative Americans for Prosperity is wading into local politics with a campaign against a local tax increase in Franklin County, Ohio meant to benefit the Columbus Zoo.
The authors of last year’s report showing that the UK Arts Council gave London-based organizations five times as much money per capita as those in other parts of the country have released a new study showing that UK lottery arts funding is similarly concentrated in the capital. The Mayor of London and organizations in his city support raises for others but not cuts for themselves. And Parliament may decriminalize non-payment of Britain’s $250 annual TV-licensing fee, the primary source of income for the BBC. Scofflaws, such as the 107 TV owners jailed in 2 years for failing to pony up, would still be subject to civil penalties. Meanwhile, the BBC is calling for payment even by those who don’t own televisions in an age when physical TVs are an afterthought.
Australia’s conservative government has taken aim at the arts, enacting more than $100 million in cuts to various national funding bodies. Since most of that amount is spread over a four-year period, the impact is not as drastic as it sounds, and the head of the Australia Council doesn’t seem too worried. Still, $100 million is $100 million…well, about $94 million in American dollars. On the other side of the ledger (and the world), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is investing $1.7 billion to build 230 new museums across the country, intended to show off the nation’s rich cultural history. Private-sector firms, including the oil giant Saudi Aramco, are getting in on the museum-building act as well.
Despite all the money that Russia pumps into the arts, there is mounting criticism—especially in the theater world—against its contents, with a new, envelope-pushing generation of artists facing political pressure from the government. Woolly Mammoth Theater’s Festival of New Radical Theater, which was set to include works from Russia, has become the most recent collateral damage in Moscow’s politicization of art. Meanwhile, on July 1, it will become illegal to curse in public performances in Russia – though the ban may cover only four very, very dirty words. Russia, of course, isn’t the only major world power wanting to shape artistic expression: China appears to be stepping up its campaign against Western media, banning four US television shows from streaming websites for violating a regulation aimed at shows that “harm the nation’s reputation, mislead young people to commit crimes, prostitution, gambling or terrorism.”