"I am the walrus" by Steven Coutts | via Flickr (Creative Commons)

“I am the walrus” by Steven Coutts | via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A controversial editorial published by the Writers’ Union of Canada’s magazine Write has resulted in resignations from the author of the piece, Hal Niedzviecki, and an editorial board member, as well as a formal apology from the union and statement from its Equity Task Force. Niedzviecki had made the interesting choice to publish an editorial brushing off the harms of cultural appropriation and calling for a tongue-in-cheek “Appropriation Prize” as the introduction to an issue of the magazine dedicated to the voices of indigenous Canadian writers. Niedzviecki’s prize would have encouraged writers to reach outside their personal experiences to “imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities.” The backlash was swift, but many top members of Canada’s literary community defended Niedzviecki’s statements on Twitter – which in turn led to editor-in-chief Jonathan Kay’s resignation from The Walrus, a highly esteemed literary magazine. Debates about cultural appropriation and representation in the arts world appear to be only intensifying in recent months. Also in May, the Walker Arts Center in Minnesota decided to work with Native American elders to dismantle a sculpture by a white artist evoking the hanging of 38 Dakota men in 1862 that it had started to install in a public park, following a public outcry that echoed the strong opposition to a white artist’s painting of Emmett Till’s casket showcased at the Whitney Biennial earlier this year. Meanwhile in the theater world, the Edward Albee estate’s decision to block the casting of a black actor in a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is likewise stirring widespread contention.

Terrorists make arts and culture targets the new normal. The May 22 suicide bombing killing 22 and injuring more than 100 people outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England signaled a direct attack on young people enjoying a cultural event and engaging in leisure activities. On the heels of the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, the Manchester atrocity came just days before terrorist attacks – with responsibility claimed by ISIS – on an ice cream parlor in Baghdad and unassuming pedestrians on London Bridge. The attacks point to a larger trend: the desire to bring chaos to cultural products and turn places of joy into tragedy. It remains to be seen whether and how heightened security measures at live events and heritage sites will alter the ways in which people engage in arts and culture.

Federal arts agencies get a boost – for now. Despite the potential threats of federal slashing of agencies such as the National Endowments for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting that made headlines in January, February, and March, arts organizations can breathe a small sigh of relief: the final federal spending bill for fiscal year 2017 spares the CPB and actually increases the budgets for both the NEA and NEH through September. The Trump administration had sought to cut the current year’s budget as well as next year’s, but those recommendations met opposition on both sides of the aisle, with several key Republicans among those fighting to maintain arts funding. Nevertheless, with President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget officially released this month. Entitled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” the budget, if enacted, would take deep bites out of funding for the arts, education, scientific exploration and scholarly research – it remains to be seen whether the future will be sunny on Sesame Street.

Seattle’s art tax goes to the ballot box. King County residents will vote in August on whether or not to raise sales taxes in an initiative intended to fund more than 300 arts organizations across the region. Modeled after the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District in metropolitan Denver and other tax initiatives in places like St. Louis and Cleveland, the bill imposes an additional 0.1% sales tax hike, yielding approximately $67 million a year toward Seattle-based arts and culture. Amid concerns that the arts would get a bump over critical issues such as homelessness, poverty, and the criminal justice system, council members ultimately altered the measure to ensure the county’s outlying areas see an equal share of the money in an effort to encourage Washingtonians to start and maintain arts organizations in rural locations.

New rights and protections for NYC and Hollywood freelancers. On May 15, New York became the first U.S. city to enact a law aimed at shoring up protections for freelance workers. The Freelance Isn’t Free Act places harsh penalties on employers who withhold payment from independent contractors or fail to pay on time or in full. The law rose out of an extensive 2015 report created by the Freelancers Union illustrating the impact of freelancers and the high percentage of workers who have struggled to receive payment. Under the new law, New York freelancers stiffed by their employers can file a complaint with the city, which will intervene on their behalf. The news follows the announcement earlier in the month of a new labor agreement between the Writers Guild of America and Hollywood studios which was widely seen as a win for struggling television and movie writers.


  • Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities William D. Adams unexpectedly announced his resignation on May 22. Deputy Chair Margaret Plympton will serve as acting chair until a replacement is named, which could be a while since that replacement would have to be nominated by the Trump administration.
  • Publisher Françoise Nyssen has been appointed the new Culture Minister of France.
  • Jaime Dempsey will be the new Executive Director at the Arizona Commission on the Arts in August. Previously deputy director of the agency, she succeeds Robert Booker, who will retire after 40 years in the arts.
  • Rose Ann Cleveland will retire from the D.C.–based Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation in October.
  • Executive director Eloise Damrosch of Portland’s Regional Arts & Culture Council will retire at the end of June.
  • The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving announced its new president, Jay Williams, will begin in July.
  • Motion Picture Association of America chief Chris Dodd will leave his post five months before his contract ends, to be replaced by Charles Rivkin. Rivkin was an assistant Secretary of State for economic and business affairs during the Obama administration.
  • Juilliard has named Damian Woetzel as its seventh president. The former New York City Ballet star was previously the director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program.
  • The New York Review of Books named Ian Buruma as its new editor after the death of founding editor Robert B. Silvers.