Demonstrators protest in front of the White House in support of Net Neutrality | Photo by Joseph Gruber via Creative Commons

Demonstrators protest in front of the White House in support of Net Neutrality | Photo by Joseph Gruber via Creative Commons

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: