"Dance" illustration by Flickr user Luciana Ruivo

“Dance” illustration by Flickr user Luciana Ruivo

Quickly advancing technologies are altering reality in ways that, not long ago, were the stuff of science-fiction movies. Computer scientists have developed a Photoshop-like tool for video, allowing users to paste audio files into a video and manipulate the subject’s lip movements to depict speeches that never happened, or took place in a different context. The algorithm was developed by researchers at the University of Washington, who claim that the lip-synch technology could improve communication and be a boon for the film industry – for example, by enabling editors to save on reshooting already filmed scenes. But there are obvious concerns that the tool might (umm, will) be used to create deceptive videos or propagate hoaxes. Still, investors like Samsung, Google, Facebook, and Intel see the the new technology’s potential in the realms of artificial intelligence and augmented reality – which have themselves seen lots of new developments this month. Apple is developing augmented reality salsa dance lessons with its new ARKit, which allows aspiring dancers to practice their technique at home, with or without a partner. Bots for poetry and art are producing work that’s competitive with human creations. And neurologists have created an instrument that can be played – wait for it – with your mind. The breakneck pace of bot and AI technologies has sparked discussion of the best practices for using these tools, as well as potential ethical and regulatory guidelines that will need to be implemented as humans and machines increasingly live side-by-side.

Things are looking up for the NEA and NEH. Nearly level funding for the major federal arts and culture agencies has been approved by the House of Representatives appropriations committee. The committee’s proposed insignificant cuts stand in stark contrast to those in President Trump’s budget proposal, which would completely have defunded both agencies. Trump first touted widespread cuts to federal arts and humanities funding in January, which some saw as more of a symbolic gesture than a genuine effort to balance the budget. Nevertheless, a call to action among arts advocacy groups and constituents has put pressure on Congress, which has demonstrated support for the arts from both sides of the aisle. The ultimate fate of the NEA and NEH won’t be known for some time: while the House could vote on the bill as soon as the summer recess ends, it likely won’t reach the Senate until the end of the year. Nevertheless, with the most conservative arm of Congress having already taken its turn, it seems likely at this point that the Endowments are safe for another year.

Arts funding for the 2%. Five years ago, Holly Sidford’s research report “Fusing Arts, Culture, and Social Change” shook the arts funding world to its core, revealing that top 2% of arts organizations (in terms of budget size) received 55% of charitable contributions to the sector. Now, “Not Just Money,” a follow-up study from Sidford’s Helicon Collaborative, reveals that the gap has actually widened among 41,000 arts organizations nationwide, with big-budget institutions increasing their take to 58%. “Not Just Money” further traces the majority of funding to 925 culturally non-specific groups whose work centers around Eurocentric art forms and reaches predominantly white audiences. Helicon reports that communities of color are represented by a quarter of nonprofit arts organizations, but they only get 4% of the funding; meanwhile organizations representing LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and rural or low-income communities are similarly underserved by funders. The trend raises questions about whether ethnocultural organizations must concentrate efforts on collaboration with bigger institutions in order to remain sustainable, and whether continued efforts to close the gap are actually making a difference. Speaking of such efforts, as part of New York City’s newly released cultural plan – which made diversity, equity, and inclusion a top priority – mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed linking future city funding to cultural institutions’ staff and board demographic makeup. Although de Blasio declined to specify target goals, the move has raised concerns of “class warfare” over arts funding between established institutions and smaller ones in disadvantaged neighborhoods, along with predictable pushback from the conservative press.

Fixing the arts education crisis in Detroit schools. Detroit’s public school board seeks to address a yawning gap in arts instruction in the city’s public schools, of which nearly half offer no formal education in music or visual arts. Detroit’s decline in arts education stems, in part, from the public school system’s exclusion from the city’s reorganization after filing for bankruptcy. (The situation is not restricted to Detroit: In 2012 a reported 108,000 students across Michigan were lacking arts education despite the State Board of Education’s mandate that students earn at least one arts credit to graduate high school.) After Detroit’s new superintendent Nikolai Vitti started in June, a freshly elected school board has allocated $500,000 for Vitti to hire art and music teachers who will travel between schools and begin to fill the gap, which is most prominent in elementary and middle schools.

Separation of church and retail? Controversy surrounding Washington, D.C.’s proposed Museum of the Bible has come to a head regarding the museum’s Green Collection. Scholars have long expressed concerns about the Green family, which began acquiring extraordinary numbers of biblical artifacts in 2009. The evangelical Christian family also owns Hobby Lobby, a U.S. chain of retail arts and craft stores, which received shipments containing ancient clay cuneiform tablets in 2010 as packages marked “tile samples.” The artifacts have now been seized as part of a federal investigation claiming that the items were smuggled from historical sites in Iraq. Hobby Lobby’s failure to verify the artifacts’ origins means the company is facing a hefty $3 million fine, on top of relinquishing a majority of the 5,500 pieces, which were bought for $1.6 million. Controversy is not new to Hobby Lobby, which in 2014 won a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the company’s right to refuse contraception coverage to full-time employees, but the new probe also casts a cloud over the Museum of the Bible – for which Steve Green sits as chairman of the board. Museum leaders claim they were not aware they were smuggling artifacts into the country, despite obtaining legal advice from an expert in cultural properties law warning against the 2010 purchase.

MUSICAL CHAIRS / COOL JOBS:

  • Ted Russell has been appointed associate director of arts strategy and ventures at the Kenneth Rainin Foundation in Oakland, CA.
  • Karen Mittelman has been appointed director of the Vermont Arts Council. Mittelman was previously at the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • The Robert W. Deutsch Foundation has appointed Jessica Solomon as its new senior program officer overseeing arts and culture.
  • Arts research and strategy consultant Victoria Plettner-Saunders has joined WolfBrown as principal.
  • The International Federation of Arts Councils and Cultural Agencies has appointed Magdalena Moreno Mujica as executive director.
  • Dennis Scholl, former vice president of the Knight Foundation, has moved to Miami’s ArtsCenter as its new president and chief executive.
  • Former NEH chairman William Adams and Spencer Foundation’s Michael McPherson have been appointed senior fellows at the Mellon Foundation.
  • The arts management program at George Mason University has announced a new director: alum Aimee Fullman.
  • New York magazine has named theater director Sara Holdren as its lead theater critic.
  • DataArts seeks a new president and CEO.
  • Dance/USA is accepting applications for director of programs through August 18.
  • The Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at USC is seeking a part-time professor specializing in Dance Leadership.

NEW RESEARCH OF NOTE:

  • While things may be looking up for the NEA and NEH, I think your post provides more assurance than is justified at this point in the federal budget process. I’m also not sure I’d categorize a proposed $5 million cut as “insignificant,” when grant recipients, or lack thereof, will see the diminished effects of a reduced federal arts and culture budget. The tone of this post relieves readers of a sense of responsibility toward continued advocacy efforts. The Senate still has to weigh in and while Congress is in district (when this post was published), arts and culture advocates should be reminded that they can still make a difference at home, whether in town meetings or other opportunities to meet with Senators on this issue. Posts like this are not helpful in uncertain times, even if some pressure has been relieved through House Subcommittee support of the cultural agencies.