"Second Grade Writing Class" by Flickr user woodleywonderworks.

“Second Grade Writing Class” by Flickr user woodleywonderworks.

In July, thirteen years after the Bush Administration passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), ushering in an age of highly criticized, high-stakes standardized testing–Congress voted to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This month, it passed the new law–nicknamed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)–with overwhelming bipartisan support. ESSA ends Adequate Yearly Progress, reels in standardized testing (though it doesn’t do away with it entirely), and removes the Common Core requirement. It also delegates more authority to states and local education agencies over accountability regarding student growth measures, professional development, and federal funding allocation for high-poverty schools. Notably for arts education, the ESSA replaces the language of “core subjects” from NCLB with “well-rounded education” (which includes the arts); in addition, the new legislation allows for arts and music education programming to qualify for new, state-administered grants. While President Obama called law a “Christmas miracle” and most welcome the change, some are concerned that leaving the details to the states may leave the most vulnerable behind.

The year of too much television. 2015 was the year the number of original scripted television series available in the US surpassed the 400 mark–coming in at 409 shows, up almost 9% from 2014 and nearly double the number available a mere six years ago. But hold the bubbly: the second Golden Age of Television has fast become the year of “Peak TV”, and it’s not all welcome news. While some are celebrating the milestone, many lament the embarrassment of riches, pointing out that “there are not enough hours in 2015 to watch all the TV you want to see in 2015. John Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks puts it a different way: there’s too much competition, and good shows often get in the way of the audience finding the great ones.” There’s also the unexpected side effect of shows that should have concluded or been cancelled long ago hold on, as TV networks race to program every moment. And yet, despite significant increases in programming on basic cable, traditional television is suffering. In December, Nielsen released a report confirming a 10% decline in traditional television watching among the coveted 18-34 demographic, compared to a 25% increase in the use of smartphones. The latest Pew Research Center survey revealed 19% of adults in this demographic have become cord cutters–that is, they’ve dropped their cable or satellite service–and another 16% never had a package to begin with.

The Facebook fortune turns philanthropy on its head. On December 1, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan announced the birth of their daughter Max in an open letter on Facebook. The letter announced another birth, so to speak, as well: the creation of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiativeto advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation,” funded by Mark and Priscilla’s pledge to “give 99% of [their] Facebook shares–currently about $45 billion–during [their] lives to advance this mission.” The announcement was met with praise, and as much criticism, as the chattering class opined about the dangers of personal influence and the rise of “philanthrocapitalism”, questioned their charitable intentions, raised concerns about transparency, and even accused the couple of tax evasion. (It probably didn’t help that Zuckerberg’s first big philanthropic overture didn’t go so well.) The Initiative is structured as an LLC instead of a traditional foundation, a highly unusual move for philanthropy, which affords it some interesting benefits that enable the entity to sidestep regulations on lobbying and how much it gives away in a given year. That $45 billion fortune–which is more than the endowment of the Gates Foundation, the world’s largest–has the potential to significantly change the shape and pacing of philanthropy in the future. The arts didn’t make it into the initial letter, but with the Initiative’s interest in “strengthening communities,” it will be interesting to see if and how it figures. 

Mexico establishes a Ministry of Culture. Lately, Mexico has made mainstream news more for violent crime and human rights violations than for its mariachi and mole. In September, in his annual state of the nation address, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto chose to focus on the latter, announcing plans to set up a new culture ministry that were affirmed almost unanimously by the Mexican Senate this month. (Up until now, cultural decisions were made by the CONACULTA, within the body of the Public Education Ministry.) Although the new ministry won’t have much in the way of resources to start with, its formation comes just before the passing of the 2016 budget, which will allow it to better design and implement policy. The Ministry will be led by Rafael Tovar y de Teresa, who led the CONACULTA from 1992 to 2000 and again since 2012. It now falls to the Senate to create and approve legislation establishing a General Law of Culture.

Royalty rates for internet radio are raised, slightly. The battle over music royalties is as old as recorded music itself, though it has certainly intensified since the dawn of the streaming era. Much has been written about the paltry sums paid out by streaming services, and some high profile battles have been waged against Spotify and its competitors by the likes of David Lowry (of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker fame) and Taylor Swift. This month, those on the payee side scored a victory when the US Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) ruled that, for the period covering 2016-2020, internet radio companies will pay 17 cents per 100 song plays (up from 14 cents previously), and major and independent record labels will be treated the same. These rules apply to non-interactive internet radio (think Pandora), so on-demand services like Spotify and iTunes Radio, which operate under direct licenses, won’t be affected. Still, the decision is a coup for labels and artists, who will in theory see more money coming their way. Unfortunately, the new rules are not welcome news for small webcasters, who are not in a position to be generous. An exception for small webcasters based on total revenue that CRB included in its 2010 ruling is noticeably missing from the latest rates, putting small and mid-sized webcasters on shaky ground.


  • Arthur Espinoza, Jr. has been appointed the Executive Director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
  • Henry S. Bienen, president emeritus of Northwestern University, has been named president of The Poetry Foundation.
  • Ruby Lopez Harper was named new Director of Local Arts Services at the Americans for the Arts.  
  • Andrew D. Hamingson, current executive director of St. Ann’s Warehouse, has been named president of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.
  • Saudi King Salman has appointed Adel Al Toraifi minister of culture and information, in a move that some are seeing as a signal of openness to reform.
  • After nine years as executive director, Roberto Bedoya has resigned from the Tucson Pima Arts Council.
  • ArtsEngine/a2ru seeks a Research Fellow. Posted on November 25; closing date January 15.
  • The Community Arts Stabilization Trust is hiring a Director of Real Estate Development and Partnerships. Posted December 21; no closing date.