Sony's The Interview hits theaters

Sony’s The Interview hits theaters – photo by Travis Wise

The massive cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, purportedly by North Korean hackers, captured the popular imagination in December. Recent hoopla has focused on Seth Rogen and James Franco’s movie The Interview, one of five Sony pictures leaked in the attack. The movie, which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, provoked threats of violence from the hackers, leading Sony to delay a theatrical release. After much debate — even President Obama weighed in on the mess — Sony moved forward with limited release in theaters on Christmas Day, coupled with a broader (and massively successful) online release. (The debacle made the No. 2 spot on our 2014 Top 10 Arts Policy Stories roundup.)

Lost in The Interview‘s shuffle, however, are revelations about Sony as a business and questions about the journalism and the First Amendment that bear a closer look. Hollywood (heck, lots of major US corporations) has long suffered a gender and race gap. Leaked documents revealed the situation at Sony is pretty stark: only one of the seventeen Sony employees making more than $1 million is a woman, and 88% of these top execs are white. (The pay gap trend extends to actors, too.) More troubling than the obvious, however, is Sony’s efforts to stop the flow of information. Sony successfully took down Reddit content citing copyright infringement, threatened twitter with legal action, and demanded that media outlets to refrain from publishing stories about the hack. In good news for journalism, however, Sony is not in the legal right, as media outlets are generally protected by the First Amendment (as long as they aren’t stealing the data themselves.)

Arts Council England Prioritizes Diversity: In December, Arts Council England (ACE) announced new funding regulations with several strategies aimed at making the arts more accessible. Chief among these is a diversity tenet, in which organizations must demonstrate diversity – of audiences, programming and in their workforce – in order to continue receiving public funding. This “fundamental shift,” presented by ACE Chair Peter Bazalgette, “[places] responsibility on every funded organization to make their programme of work more reflective of the communities they serve.” British theater companies have mostly welcomed this “diversity drive,” though some do question its feasibility. The 670 nonprofits currently receiving ACE funding have some time to get their act together. The Council will not systematically consider diversity data when making funding recommendations until 2018. The monitoring of progress, however, is to begin next year.

Level Funding for Arts Agencies Secured in Cromnibus: The end of 2014 found the “least productive Congress ever” hard at work on eleventh hour legislation, with many implications for the arts. On December 14, the Senate narrowly passed the annual budget bill, this year colorfully nicknamed the “Cromnibus,” thus funding the federal government through next September. The bill, signed into law by President Obama on December 16, includes stable funding for National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities; each will receive $146 million. In addition, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Arts in Education program within the U.S. Department of Education, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will all be funded at previous levels. While a bill to make permanent certain charity tax breaks – including the popular IRA Charitable Rollover – was rejected, the Senate did approve a bill retroactively extending these breaks for 2014, providing donor incentives through December.

Penn Foundation Wipes Out Two Philadelphia Arts Organizations: Philadelphia’s only remaining major arts funder, the William Penn Foundation, has been a driving force behind the push towards capitalization of institutions within the grantmaker community over the past few years. Unfortunately, when you invest in capitalizing some organizations, there’s less left over for others, as a few Philly organizations recently found out the hard way. In November, the Foundation declined to renew its general operating grant to Dance/USA Philadelphia (Dance/UP), which it has funded for the last eight years to the tune of $2.7 million. As a result, Dance/UP announced last month that it would have to close, prompting an angry outcry from the local dance community. The foundation later agreed to provide short-term transition funding to allow Dance/UP to close responsibly by migrating some of its programs to other area organizations. Meanwhile, Penn also declined to fund The Philadelphia Singers; in recent years, grants from the foundation had accounted for almost a full third of the chorus’s annual operating budget. The chorus, founded in 1972, announced that it too would cease operations following its May 2015 concert, citing loss of funding as the major contributing factor in the decision.

US Reaches Diplomatic Breakthrough with Cuba: In a historic breakthrough reversing fifty years of U.S. policy, President Obama announced on December 17 that the US would begin normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba. The announcement, considered by many to have been a long time coming, offers potentially significant implications for artists. Although the embargo has not prevented cultural exchange between the US and Cuba in recent years, many are hopeful that improved relations will ease logistical headaches around visas and artist payments, encouraging more presenters to book Cuban artists and fostering new relationships with our neighbors to the south.

MUSICAL CHAIRS/COOL JOBS

  • The New England Foundation for the Arts has named Cathy Edwards as its new executive director, replacing longtime leader Rebecca Blunk who passed away last year.
  • Sharnita Johnson is the new arts program director at New Jersey’s Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.
  • Arts Council England has appointed former Classic FM director Darren Henley as its new chief executive, replacing Alan Davey who is leaving ACE to become controller of Radio 3.
  • In two retirements at the New York Times, celebrated music critic Allan Kozinn and veteran arts writer Carol Vogel left the newspaper of record after tenures of 37 and 31 years, respectively.
  • William Ruprecht, chief executive of New York-based Sotheby’s, and Steven Murphy, chief executive of London-based Christie’s, departed their respective posts at the end of the year.
  • Two staff departures this month came with some public controversy. Matthew Lennon, Houston Arts Alliance’s Director of Civic Art and Design, resigned his post over objections to the city’s handling of a major arts commission. And longtime Artistic Director Ari J. Roth was fired from his position at Washington DC’s Theater J, following a tumultuous tenure that frequently saw him pushing the boundaries of his home institution’s tolerance for free expression. Roth’s ouster prompted a strong protest from his colleagues in the theater world.
  • New Yorkers for Parks is hiring a Director of Research and Planning. Posted December 10, no closing date.
  • The Barr Foundation is looking for a Program Officer for Arts and Culture. Posted December 15, no closing date.

NEW RESEARCH OF NOTE