Just days past his confirmation, Ajit Pai, the Trump administration’s pick for Federal Communications Commission chairman, is already rolling back regulations put in place by the Obama administration in 2015 to protect net neutrality and increase access to the Internet. Changes that have already been enacted include the removal of nine companies from the Lifeline subsidy program, former chairman Tom Wheeler’s initiative which reduced the cost of broadband access for low-income families; the FCC also put a stop to data-security rules enacted in October. These actions signal a rapid-fire change in the FCC’s direction and portend new battles over Internet access. Pai has yet to lay out a specific plan to reverse the FCC’s classification of broadband internet as a utility like electricity or water – one of the landmark decisions under Wheeler’s tenure – but he’s made clear that he sees that move as a “mistake” that has depressed growth in new broadband investment. Some critics consider the loss of a free, open, and affordable Internet one of the biggest potential threats to the arts, favoring corporate interests at best, with the looming possibility of censorship at worst.
Brits attempt to impose quality standards on art. Arts Council England has earmarked £2.7 million to implement Quality Metrics, a controversial process aimed at measuring the quality of art presented to the public by government grantees. Drawn from a series of evaluations by peers, audiences, and the grantees themselves, the system seeks to measure artistic quality across various art forms and types of arts organizations, and will be mandatory for all organizations receiving at least £250,000 per year in operating support from the Arts Council. The plan is set to roll out despite many concerns raised following an independent review of the pilot phase of the program, particularly regarding the use of a single set of metrics across a plethora of artistic disciplines and questions regarding feasibility, data ownership, and anonymity. Buy-in from artists has been equally lukewarm, with many expressing resistance to the very idea of quantifying the arts.
It’s getting even harder to make it in Hollywood. A recent episode of the NPR podcast Freakonomics examined America’s ailing visual effects industry, which has endured economic troubles as jobs continue to migrate out of Hollywood. Despite visual effects playing an increasingly large role in filmmaking (and obliterating trades like special effects in the process), multiple companies in the industry remain in dire economic straits. Their job attrition likely stems from producers and directors chasing tax rebates in neighboring states, and increasingly abroad, forcing many film jobs out of California and hastening the globalization of the industry. At least one Hollywood profession may be getting some help: the Los Angeles City Attorney brought charges last month against five casting workshops accused of using a pay-to-play scheme trading acting roles for cash. In announcing the charges following an investigation involving an undercover actor, the city cited the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act, which bars casting agents from requiring actors to pay fees for auditions.
Libraries grapple between access and ownership. In an era of inevitable change for public libraries, some are relaxing or even doing away entirely with overdue fines, questioning whether the penalties ultimately hurt Americans who need libraries the most. The decision stands in stark contrast to recent crackdowns on overdue books in Alabama and Texas, in which authorities threatened delinquent borrowers with jail time in an effort to recover hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars in lost property. The US is not alone; in the UK, more than 25 million books are lost and unaccounted for in that country’s libraries according to industry sources. So, while releasing borrowers from fines may remove the economic barrier and increase libraries’ appeal for marginalized communities, it also inevitably means fewer titles to chose from.
Federal arts funding hangs in the balance. Arts organizations are gearing up for battle as the Trump administration continues to toy with the idea of cutting arts agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts in first drafts of the federal budget. While these cuts have not yet been formally instigated, their possibility has spurred activists to flood congressional offices in opposition. Much attention is focusing on the small but politically significant cadre of Republican arts champions, including New Jersey congressman Leonard Lance and senators Shelley Moore Capito and Susan Collins, both of whom signed a letter of support organized by fellow senator Kirsten Gillibrand. The ramifications of losing these agencies would be most deeply felt in rural areas, which receive less support from state and municipal arts funding. Despite a gradual uptick in appropriations to state agencies dating from the recession, the biggest gains of recent years have been concentrated in populous states like Florida and California, while it’s one step forward two steps back in places like Iowa. Bigger cities may have the best chance for surviving a wholesale cut to the arts: Atlanta and New York are among those plotting ways to increase support at the local level by proposing dedicated arts and culture taxes, providing incentives to artists who live in particular cities or states, and bolstering public art programming.
MUSICAL CHAIRS / COOL JOBS:
- Director Craig Watson of the California Arts Council will step down from his role with the agency effective April 2017.
- Philadelphia’s William Penn Foundation has named Shawn McCaney as its new executive director. McCaney was previously director of Penn’s Creative Communities program.
- The Wallace Foundation named Giselle “Gigi” Antoni as its new director of learning and enrichment. Antoni had developed a national reputation as the leader of Dallas’s Big Thought arts education initiative.
- The Alaska-based Rasmuson Foundation has announced Alexandra McKay as its new vice president of programs.
- Seattle arts critic Jen Graves voluntarily resigned after more than a decade at The Stranger, stating that it’s “not a viable place for me to do the work I’ve always cared about.”
- Perhaps less voluntarily, the outspoken New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood is looking for work. Despite the implosion of jobs in arts criticism, the Times intends to fill the full-time position.
- DataArts is seeking a senior research manager to lead teams in study design, data analysis and interpretation and the delivery of the organization’s research services.
- The Boston-based Barr Foundation is hiring an arts & creativity program officer.
NEW RESEARCH OF NOTE:
- The National Endowment for the Arts shared its latest installment of data on economic trends in arts and culture, produced in collaboration with the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Upshot: artists add value to the economy, but public funding for arts education is in a sharp decline.
- Out of 1,000 responses to a survey by the UK’s Guardian Teacher Network, 80% claimed their schools made or are planning to make cuts to the arts.
- New evidence suggests that formal artistic education (i.e. conservatory training) can have a positive impact on artists’ career sustainability, as can financial and business training. Of course, one must be able to afford such training; indeed, the Sutton Trust noted that British actors from wealthy backgrounds are more likely successful than those with modest upbringings. Meanwhile, college-educated white adults make more than college-educated black and Latino adults according to Demos and the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, challenging the assumption that higher education can neutralize racial wage gaps.
- Exponent Philanthropy reported that small foundations and individual donors are developing strategies to up their impact potential in grantmaking. But larger funders tend to rely on their peers as the most trusted source of knowledge, according to a Hewlett Foundation report.
- An evaluation of Arts Council England’s Catalyst program indicates it provided a significant kick-start needed to increase the fundraising capacity of grantees.
- Museums and other cultural attractions continue to face challenges. A new metric indicates that visitor confidence to US cultural organizations is experiencing a sharp decline. However, a recent review of the literature indicates that museums are developing new fundraising strategies by looking beyond wealthy socialites as sources of individual donor support. Meanwhile, the American Alliance of Museums, as it does each year, published its TrendsWatch report considering what the future might hold for the industry.
- A new Ipsos survey asked Canadians across the county to define their culture and its products in the digital age.
- A new study identified hip and arm movement as the mark of good dancing in women. A rebuttal from Slate’s Daniel Engber, however, questions the relevance of the study, deeming it science’s version of clickbait.
- Grantmakers in the Arts produced a review of the literature regarding the arts in medicine, with a specific focus on optimizing investments.
- Research from the University of Chicago indicates that it’s easier to have a negative attitude then to look on the bright side.
- New research suggests that, compared to other teens, ballet dancers experience greater rates of “psychological inflexibility,” leading to anxiety and depression. Dancing may contribute to a greater fear of failure and pressure to achieve a physical aesthetic, which may also lead to such symptoms.
- Violent video games are thought to be associated with negative behaviors. Could uplifting games elicit the opposite effect? A UNESCO-sponsored study indicates they could.
- The Kennedy Center has partnered with the National Institutes of Health to create Sound Health, an initiative that explores music’s effects on health and wellness. Fast Company interviewed author Daniel Levitin about his new book on a similar topic: the neuroscience of music, and how playing music at home impacts behavior, attention span and productivity. Levitin’s work indicates that music is no longer as prevalent in the home, perhaps due to increased screen time, and could be used to facilitate mental breaks from focused tasks. His findings contrast evidence that positions silence (differentiated from quiet, or ambient noise) as an underutilized productivity tool.
- An annual report on freedom of expression around the world released by Freemuse finds that violations of artists’ rights more than doubled in 2016.
- The University of Wisconsin found that people of color accounted for 22% of children’s books characters in 2016, a 13-percentage-point increase over the course of two decades.
- Despite the success of high-profile female artists like Adele and Beyoncé, women are, on the whole, seriously underrepresented on the top 40 charts.
- #OscarsSoYoung could be the latest hashtag criticizing the Academy Awards. A new report from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism indicates that there were only two characters over 60 nominated over the past three years…and both were played by Michael Keaton. USC researchers also found that women directors working on the top-grossing films were unlikely to have released more than one film in the last decade.