The Diego Rivera Mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts – photo by Quick fix

The Diego Rivera Mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts – photo by Quick fix

Each year, Createquity offers a list of the top ten arts policy stories of the past twelve months. You can read the previous editions here: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009The list, like Createquity itself, is focused on the United States, but is not oblivious to news from other parts of the world. This year, we distributed creation of this list amongst our editorial team more widely than we ever have before, and this is truly a group effort. Authorship of individual items is noted at the end of each paragraph.

In our annual top 10 list of arts policy stories, we often like to point out the implications that non-arts world events have for the arts. In an unusual twist this year, we had a couple of stories in which the art itself was at the center of significant world events. We always knew that art has the power to inspire wonder, hope, greed, fear and anger; 2014 taught us that we can add bankruptcy negotiations and terrorist threats to the list. –Ian David Moss

10. Trey McIntyre Project disbands

In a move that shocked fans and fellow arts administrators alike, Trey McIntyre announced this January that his celebrated eponymous dance company, known as the Trey McIntyre Project, would disband this season, letting him shift focus to new artistic pursuits involving film production, photography, and less frequently, freelance choreography. Begun as a summer touring company in 2005, TMP launched a full-time dance troupe in 2008-09. TMP had been recognized for its innovative choreography and as a model for audience engagement, but most of all for its unusual relationship to the city of Boise, Idaho, which was selected as the new company’s unlikely home after a nationwide search. This arrangement provided TMP with an affordable and livable community, while Boise in turn embraced the company wholeheartedly, treating the dancers like local celebrities and naming the company as its official ambassador. Drawing national attention and funding from creative placemaking initiatives including the NEA’s Our Town and ArtPlace America, TMP had been hailed by many as a model of engagement for the future. Yet McIntyre has said that ending the company was always part of the plan, which is why he decided to call it a “project.” Speaking to Dance|USA, McIntyre said that “the dance company actually went on longer than I had intended. But things were going on really well and I felt it was important to see it through to its fruition and explore every possibility.” From the outside it might look like plenty of possibility was left on the table, but perhaps even in its demise TMP is still a model for the future – that is to say, a model of an organization that knows how to quit while it’s ahead. –Carlyn Madden

9. Transition and renewal for cultural agencies in New York, LA and Boston

In 2014, three major US cities saw a shift in local government leadership, in each case bringing promise and questions for the arts. New York City’s election of Bill de Blasio as its first Democratic mayor in twenty years coincides with a push by the City Council to undertake the Big Apple’s first ever cultural plan. The proposed law charges the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, led by newly appointed Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, with developing recommendations for increasing participation in cultural activities throughout the city. NYC is the only one of the country’s top ten municipalities to not have some sort of cultural plan; this bill will hopefully change that when it comes up for a vote in 2015. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti – the city’s first Jewish mayor, and its youngest in a century – opened the year by reshaping the arts conversation, putting emphasis on the fact that the arts are “a value for the entire city government.” In June, he appointed Danielle Brazell, who had previously headed up the city’s arts advocacy organization Arts for LA, to lead the city’s Cultural Affairs Department. But the greatest excitement belongs to Boston, which elected its first mayor last year following the 21-year reign of Tom Menino. The statewide arts advocacy coalition MassCreative took the transition as an opportunity to put culture at the center of the electoral conversation, and its efforts paid off this year in dramatic fashion. In September, newly elected mayor Marty Walsh appointed Julie Burros as Boston’s first Chief of Arts and Culture in more than 20 years, and tasked her with stewarding the creation of the city’s cultural plan. Adding to the sense of momentum, Boston’s Barr Foundation has taken on a newly assertive role in guiding the future of the arts in Beantown, bringing in former Irvine Foundation president James E. Canales and joining the ArtPlace America coalition. –Clara Inés Schuhmacher

8. State arts councils come back with a vengeance

State arts councils had their best year since the turn of the millennium with a nearly 20% increase in funding for FY2015. Total appropriations for arts agencies reached $367.4 million, the highest total (in nominal terms, don’t get too excited) since 2002. The biggest winner was the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, which had suffered a crippling 94% budgetary cut over a three-year period ending in 2009. The Sunshine State’s arts council roared back this year with a 433% increase, unseating the New York State Council on the Arts as the most formidable state arts council in the country – and with a conservative governor at the helm, no less. California and Michigan also received significant increases in funding, and South Carolina governor Nikki Haley apparently got tired of trying unsuccessfully to veto funding for the state’s Arts Commission as she had done in each of her previous years in office.  With the improving economy, unplanned midyear cuts to state arts agency budgets saw a marked decrease, down to eight states in 2014 from 41 in FY2009. –Louise Geraghty

7. The landscape for film tax credits gets reshaped

After years of what resembled a high-stakes poker game in the competitive environment for film and TV tax incentives, 2014 saw several significant shifts that involved some states upping the ante and others folding their hand. California led the way, more than tripling its tax credit program to $330 million annually in a bid to reassert dominance and keep Hollywood productions in Hollywood. New Jersey’s state Senate decided to play along too, passing a bill that would raise the annual cap for film tax credits from $10 million to $50 million. States weren’t the only ones in the mix: Austin’s City Council approved reimbursement of up to 0.75% of production companies’ wages. Not everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid, however; as John Carnwath writes in “The Bottom Line on Film Tax Credits,” the benefits of film & TV tax incentives to the state and its citizens are not always clear. This year saw North Carolina, Michigan and New Mexico scaling down their programs, citing “concerns [that] the cost to taxpayers outweighed the economic benefits.” Meanwhile, skeptical lawmakers tried to derail Maryland’s tax credit program, prompting a high-stakes standoff with Media Rights Capital and its Netflix show House of Cards that brought out a lobbying appearance from Kevin Spacey himself. An eventual agreement kept House of Cards filming in the Old Line State, but only at the expense of $2.5 million that was transferred away from the state arts fund (and thus many deserving nonprofits!) in a troubling precedent. And even after all that, a nonpartisan analysis from the state’s legislative staff concluded that every dollar invested in the tax credits brought back only 10 cents in revenue. –CIS

6. Bring on the era of Jane Chu!

With the NEA chairmanship open since Rocco Landesman’s retirement in November 2012, the confirmation of Jane Chu to the post was welcome news this June. Chu established her arts career in Kansas City, where she led a $414 million campaign for the establishment of the Kauffman Center and was a key player in the city’s transformation into an arts leader. With a midwestern background, a track record with the business community as a board member for the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, and previous fundraising success, Chu seems well-chosen for the task of establishing bipartisan support for the arts and countering the impression that the NEA serves a coastal cultural elite. Nevertheless, some wonder if her limited tenure as result of the administration’s long delay in appointing a new leader will give her much opportunity to drive policy at the agency. Chu has not yet announced any new initiatives in her first six months on the job. Meanwhile, the National Endowment for the Humanities also saw a new chairman confirmed this year. William “Bro” Adams comes from a career in academia, most recently as the president of Colby College in Maine, but he may find himself taking on a similar agenda of garnering broad based support and bolstering funding for the humanities. Adams has already announced a new initiative entitled “The Common Good, Humanities in the Public Square.”  –Katherine Ingersoll

5. The IRS haltingly embraces the 21st century

In July the IRS announced major changes to the process of applying for 501(c)(3) charitable status, including a streamlined three-page 1023EZ form for most organizations with gross receipts under $50,000. This bodes well for the backlog of nearly 60,000 organizations waiting for their applications to be processed who will see a dramatic decrease in wait time. The move is in line with a larger trend towards more streamlined processes for the exempt organizations division at the IRS – and, quite possibly, more relaxed enforcement of the rules. The changes come at a time when budget cuts, staff reductions, and political scandals, have stoked concerns about the agency’s regulatory oversight. Government transparency advocates have noted that the dilemma of providing effective regulation with fewer resources could be solved by offering 990 data in an open, searchable format online, distributing some of the IRS’s watchdog responsibilities to donor advocates and the public. (Currently the forms are only available on CDs; GuideStar offers the documents on its website with a 1-2 year delay.) Will the IRS be able to modernize its operations while protecting the public interest? Will your tax forms become shorter, and will there be any staff left to process them? Only time will tell. –KI

4. Russia and Turkey crack down on free expression

Although Russia’s aggression toward the Ukraine has occupied many a news cycle this year, the oppressive measures that Vladimir Putin’s government has taken to reaffirm authority at home, many of which affect artists, have not been as widely reported. Among the more troubling developments is what appears to be a return to the witch-hunt tactics of the Soviet era, publicly naming (and ostensibly shaming) “subversive” artists in print and on television. In July, Putin signed a law prohibiting swearing in public performances (these are the four main offenders), leaving presenters struggling with how best to present planned repertoire. International tensions have affected programming in the US as well – most notably, in April, Washington DC’s Woolly Mammoth Theatre canceled a months-in-the-making festival of Russian theatre, citing loss of previously committed tour funding from the Moscow Cultural Ministry for the 90 artists slated to appear. Putin is not the only national leader to attempt to bend public expression to his will, of course, and he seemingly is inspiring some copycat behavior by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Coinciding with a sweeping consolidation of power this year, Erdogan’s government proposed a bill in April that would establish an arts council to centralize the disbursement of state funds for artistic activities, effectively giving the government absolute artistic control. The proposed bill has drawn outrage from both the arts community and Turkish citizens, and though still in draft form, the effects of its line of thinking are already being felt, with world-renowned pianists blocked from national performances, and mysteriously cancelled productions at the State Theater. –CIS

3. Net neutrality hangs in the balance

It’s been yet another rough year for net neutrality. In January, Verizon challenged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s 2011 “Open Internet Order” and its authority to promulgate such rules. Verizon won, effectively overturning regulations that require internet service providers to treat all content equally, and setting off a maelstrom of concern around innovation, democracy, and the idea of America itself. Under fire, the FCC proposed new net neutrality rules in March, then again in April (these critics claimed were unworthy of the name), with yet a third draft presented on May 15th. The May proposal, which garnered a whopping 3.7 million public comments over a five month period (680k of which the FCC recently “lost,”) would allow broadband companies to provide a “fast lane” for content providers willing to pay a “commercially reasonable” fee, similar to those that already exist with tech companies like Netflix, Google, Amazon, and Facebook. In December, President Obama and The White House released a plan recommending that the FCC reclassify Internet broadband as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which proponents argue would give the FCC the increased regulatory power necessary to protect net neutrality. Looming large over the debate is the proposed merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast – the country’s two largest cable companies – and the access implications if approved (the merger would give the new company a stake in 60% of US broadband households.) For now, it’s wait-and-see. The FCC has said it will implement net neutrality rules as early as February 2015, though that likely won’t bring an end to the debate. Whatever happens, someone is likely to sue. –CIS

2. “The Interview” provokes an international incident

Few arts stories in recent memory have involved as much bizarre spectacle as the recent Sony Pictures hack and subsequent fallout. Hollywood is no stranger to poking fun at North Korea (whose leaders are known film buffs); when Team America: World Police lampooned Kim Jong-il in 2004, life went on without much incident. Ten years later, it’s a different story with Seth Rogen and James Franco’s The Interview, which depicts the assassination of Kim’s son Jong-un. After hackers who may or may not have been aligned with North Korea exposed embarrassing emails and data from Sony Pictures, the producer of the movie, the studio and major movie theaters distanced themselves from the film. When the group claiming responsibility for the cyberattack threatened violence, Sony went further, deciding to delay The Interview’s theatrical release and provoking stern words from President Obama himself in response. Subsequently, Sony reversed its decision and released the film online and in select theaters on schedule. Buoyed by the controversy, it is now the most downloaded Sony Pictures film of all time and earned $15 million in its first three days of digital release (along with $3 million through its limited theatrical run) – and no one has yet been injured in a terrorist attack. Now, some people are even speculating that Sony and other major studios might forego a traditional theatrical release in the future in favor of going directly to online outlets. One thing we’re pretty sure about: never before has a story engaged computer geeks, homeland security experts, celebrity gossip hounds, and arts marketers with such equal intensity. –LG

1. Detroit’s art leads the Motor City out of bankruptcy

News about the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) made our “Top Ten” list in 2012 and in 2013. Let’s hope 2014 – as it reaches the dubious honor of No. 1 – marks its last appearance for a while. After two years, Detroit’s long and painful bankruptcy battle finally came to a close in November with a federal ruling in favor of the city’s bankruptcy plan. For this Detroit has, in many ways, the DIA to thank. Under the so-called “Grand Bargain,” an $816 million deal developed by the Ford, Kresge and Knight Foundations, among others, the foundations will provide funding for Detroit’s public pensions – a key component of the negotiations. The only catch? Control of the DIA must be transferred from the City of Detroit (which has owned the museum since 1919) to an independent charitable trust, thus protecting the art from being auctioned off to the highest bidder. Previously, Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr had included the museum’s art collection among city assets available for liquidation, and contracted Christie’s to appraise portions of the 60k+ piece collection. Detroit city creditor Financial Guaranty Insurance Co. even went as far as to solicit bids for the DIA’s entire collection, receiving four separate offers to buy the art outright for as much as $2 billion. That a museum and its art could become the linchpin of a federal bankruptcy negotiation, soliciting intense interest from creditors and rallying outside philanthropic interests to its rescue, is truly remarkable. Would a “Grand Bargain” — and a Detroit with its dignity left intact — have even been possible without the DIA? Luckily, we won’t have to find out. –CIS

Honorable mentions:

Happy 2015 to all!