Cuts to arts council budgets are commonplace, but the news that the Australia Council will see $104.8 million slashed from its budget over the next four years isn’t your usual tale of shifting budget priorities amid tough economic times. What makes this story alarming (instead of just sad) is that the money didn’t disappear from the arts; rather, Arts Minister George Brandis moved it–to a newly established policy, the National Programme for Excellence in the Arts, managed by his own ministry. The Australia Council, founded in 1973, is governed by the principle of arm’s length funding, which allows the council to decide how to allocate the funds it receives from the government. Minister Brandis has long appeared hostile to this principle, having attempted in the past to assert personal control over the Council’s funding decisions. Accordingly, many in the arts community worry the new policy will allow the Minister to pursue his own arts agenda without the checks afforded by peer review, with implications for artistic independence in Australia. The National Programme will focus on funding tours, festivals, endowments and on attracting private sector cultural support, potentially at the expense of smaller, more experimental organizations. Artists across the country have rallied against the budget cuts, signing petitions and staging protests.
Christie’s, Picasso and the Billion Dollar Week: The art world oft goes the way of celebrity, though in May it reached new levels of wealth and grandeur. On Monday, May 11th, Christie’s 35-lot “Looking Forward to the Past” auction raised a jaw-dropping $705.9 million. Among the sales were two works estimated at more than $120 million, including Pablo Picasso’s 1955 painting “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’)” which sold for $179.4 million including fees–the highest price on record for a work of art sold at auction. Two days later, the auction house raised an additional $658.5 million worth of pieces at a postwar and contemporary auction, giving Christie’s the first-ever billion dollar week. (Not to be outdone, Sotheby’s raised close to $750 million in the first two weeks of May, at auctions of American-oriented contemporary pieces and Impressionist and Modern art.) Forget the 1%: the stratosphere of wealth on display at Christie’s in May was that of the 0.1%. Since 1997–the last time that Picasso was on the market–the pool of mega-wealthy art buyers has quintupled: a glaring example of the increasing wealth inequality globally.
Broadband for All: Fresh off his success in classifying broadband internet as a public utility this February, Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler circulated a new proposal to revamp Lifeline, a $1.7 billion subsidy program whose goal is to ensure all Americans have affordable access to telecommunications. Lifeline was created in 1985 under the Reagan administration and at present subsidizes landline and mobile telephone service for some 12 million low-income households. Wheeler’s proposal would allow participants to apply their subsidy to broadband internet as well. Although at $9.25/month the subsidy isn’t enough to cover most plans, as educational, health, employment and other social resources move online, broadband access has become increasingly important and advocates for bridging the digital-divide argue that every little bit helps. Critics of Lifeline and the proposed changes argue the subsidy is wasteful, and plagued by fraud and abuses. A vote has been set for June 18.
Revolt at Actors Equity Association: In April, despite strong opposition from its Los Angeles membership, the Actors Equity Association ordered small theaters in LA County (that’s theaters with fewer than 100 seats) to pay its actors a $9 hourly minimum wage in the somewhat infamous 99 Seat Plan battle. This month, that same membership voted to oust incumbent president Nick Wyman–who presided over the 99 Seat controversy–electing Kate Shindle to the presidency. The win is an upset for an organization where union leaders seeking re-election are almost always reelected. The election outcome is almost definitely the result of the ongoing revolt by the LA contingent, and may just be the first of many steps towards a re-imagined AEA.
Retracted Study Shows How Easy It Is to Fake Data and Get Away With It: In December 2014, Michael LaCour, a political science grad student at UCLA, and Donald Green, a professor at Columbia, published a paper in the journal Science showing that one short but focused conversation with a canvasser could change a person’s opinion with lasting, and contagious effects (in this case, softening or changing one’s opinion of same-sex marriage). The paper’s rigor, scale, and results earned it devoted admirers and mainstream coverage in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, This American Life – even a tweet on Createquity – and launched LaCour’s career all the way to a plum tenure-track job at Princeton. The fairy-tale triumph unraveled quickly this month, however, after fellow graduate students David Broockman and Joshua Kalla reported a number of irregularities in the study, prompting co-author Green to request a retraction. These irregularities included fabricated data, fabricated funding, and a fabricated survey contract–fraud on a scale one would never expect to find in a journal such as Science. The story raises important questions about how many other celebrated studies have never-caught “irregularities” lurking within them, particularly since publicly challenging a peer’s academic work, especially as a jobless graduate student, carries far more career risks than it should.
MUSICAL CHAIRS / COOL JOBS
- Kristina Newman-Scott has been appointed Connecticut State’s director of culture.
- Jessica Mele will join the Hewlett Foundation as program officer in the Performing Arts Program in August.
- The Henry Luce Foundation appointed Teresa A. Carbone as program director for American Art, succeeding Ellen Holtzman who held the post for twenty-three years.
- After more than a decade as CEO of the LA Stage Alliance, Terence McFarland will move on to become the associate executive director at Valley Performing Arts Center at California State University in Northridge.
- The Whiting Foundation seeks a Program Assistant. Posted May 3; no closing date.
- The Cultural Data Project seeks a Research Associate. Posted May 7; no closing date.
- The Foundation Center seeks a part time, Special Projects Associate for Glasspockets. Posted May 13; no closing date.
- Exponent Partners seeks a Foundation Practice Manager. Posted May 21; no closing date.
- Ford Foundation is hiring a Director, Creativity and Free Expression. Posted May 26; no closing date.
- The Arts, Culture and Social Justice Network is hiring a part-time Facilitator. Deadline: June 11.
- The League of American Orchestras seeks a Research and Data Manager. No closing date.
NEW RESEARCH OF NOTE
- National Endowment for the Arts released “Beyond the Building: Performing Arts and Transforming Place,” a report featuring the outcomes of a 2014 convening of the same name which looked at the performing arts and their role in creative placemaking.
- Several reports this month pointed a spotlight on museums. “New Practices in Digital and Technology” from the Association of Art Museum Directors looks at recent innovative projects at more than forty museums nationally; a second report from Contemporanea looks at the Latino experience in museums.
- The Nonprofit Finance Fund released its annual analysis of the State of the Sector, including a special supplement on arts and cultural nonprofits.
- Foundation Center and Grantmakers in the Arts released an update to their 2005 collaboration, Foundation Funding for Arts Education.
- A report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy reveals that the hype outpaces reality when it comes to private foundations’ investment in impact investing.
- A study by TRG Arts and the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance looking at audience engagement with different arts organizations across Philadelphia finds that loyalty sustains arts communities.
- A study from Richard Florida’s Martin Prosperity Institute finds major differences between “creative” neighborhoods and “science” neighborhoods, calling into question the conflation of these two communities.
- A report from the NAMM Foundation finds that a majority of teachers and parents believes music and arts education is important for children.
- A first-person report published in the journal The Arts in Psychotherapy offers insights into using art therapy to work with radical fighters in Saudi Arabia, including jihadists.
- A recent report from Committee to Protect Journalists focuses, for the first time, specifically on the myriad of threats that cartoonists face worldwide.
- A recent YouGov survey of US citizens has some mildly depressing results concerning the American public’s attitudes towards the visual arts, with “expensive” the most common word respondents associated with them. Also of note – the museum field’s official policy towards deaccessioning is vastly out of step with public attitudes.
- And finally, from outside the arts with implication for within, in August Rebecca Ratner will publish a study in Journal of Consumer Research which makes a case for doing (fun) things solo.