With Obama set to assume the highest office in the land Tuesday, the arts blogosphere has been swirling with ideas, petitions, and requests for input on how the arts should be incorporated into the new administration’s agenda. Now, finally, we can add to that some news: Americans for the Arts has seemingly met with some success in ensuring that some provisions for the arts are included in the House of Representatives’ $825 billion economic recovery package. In particular, the NEA is in line to receive a $50 million infusion of capital specifically directed to help organizations keep arts-related jobs intact. However, the job is not done: the act has to pass, first of all, and there is still room to tie artist-specific provisions more closely to the basic framework of the legislation. To that end, AftA has put together this great tool which you can use to email your representatives in Congress and express your support for the arts (including specific talking points for how that support should translate to the legislation). The email is customizable so that you can pick which recommendations you choose to highlight or downplay. For reference, here is Americans for the Arts’ original policy brief (pdf), which was announced earlier in the week.
In the meantime, here’s some other arts policy buzz around the web, and a look back at the week that was:
- Via Fractured Atlas, another group called ArtsPolicyNow has a competing arts policy platform on Obama’s Citizen Briefing Book, which you can vote up or down as you please. The full document is available here (pdf). (As an aside, the Citizen’s Briefing Book is looking a little sad right now; I’m embarrassed to say that as of this writing the top recommendation is for marijuana legalization, and that #5 is “Revoke the Tax Exempt Status of the Church of Scientology.” Really, people? This is the best you can do?)
- Yet another action item: this petition to create a Secretary of Arts cabinet position, inspired by Quincy Jones, already has an impressive 146,000 signatures.
- Barry Hessenius notes all of the recent activity and takes the opportunity to issue a righteous rant on artists coming together in 2009.
- Not directly arts policy related, but a new mini-study (pdf) by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation finds that business start-ups are important to job creation, much more so (in the aggregate) than established firms. From the report:
The fraction of employment accounted for by U.S. private-sector business startups over the 1980-2005 period is about 3 percent per year. This measure is interpretable as the employment-weighted business startup rate for the United States. While this is a small fraction of overall employment, all of this employment from startups reflects new jobs. As such, 3 percent is large compared to the average annual net employment growth of the U.S. private sector for the same period (about 1.8 percent). This pattern implies that, excluding the jobs from new firms, the U.S. net employment growth rate is negative on average. This simple comparison highlights the importance of business startups to job creation in the United States.
The report doesn’t consider nonprofit startups, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the same principle holds true. (h/t PND)
- The current edition of Newsweek has a long article from Jeremy McCarter on Obama and the arts, looking back to FDR and the New Deal and tackling some of the issues discussed above.
When President Roosevelt signed the Works Progress Administration into law in 1935, it included provisions for four arts programs: theater, writing, music and art. The $418 million (in 2008 dollars) allocated in the first year was a tiny slice of the agency’s total, but, as Nick Taylor relates in “American-Made,” a new history of the WPA, it was extremely effective. Arts organizations such as theaters and symphonies tend to be highly labor-intensive, making them a quick and efficient way to help put many people back to work. (Take note, you writers and artists threatened by new media and the Death of Print: part of the rationale for the program was to find jobs for talented people left unemployed by industrial shifts that predated the Depression, such as vaudevillians being put out of work by the movies.)
From the vantage point of our current crisis, new employment may be the least interesting result of the arts programs. Without trying to be a latter-day Medici, FDR sponsored some impressive creations, including Orson Welles’s trailblazing, voodoo-inflected, all-black staging of “Macbeth,” as well as countless dazzling murals and posters. These achievements weren’t merely esthetic. The WPA’s investment in the arts also helped bring about a change in values—one that’s especially evident in the work of the Federal Writers’ Project. The agency published state guidebooks that were far more ambitious than itineraries for tourists on car trips. Contributors—including the young Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright—collected stories about the history, people and day-to-day life of cities and towns, making the books part essay collection, part encyclopedia and part vehicle for exploring a certain ideal of Americanness.
- Tom Borrup has an extensive report from the 2008 Creative Clusters conference (a.k.a. The International Creative Economy Network and Conference) in Glasgow over at the Community Arts Network.
- Closer to home, former Miller Theater executive director and darling of the new music world George Steel is returning triumphantly to New York as the new director of City Opera. After watching him leave unexpectedly last year for the Dallas Opera in what seemed at the time a rather strange marriage, the Big Apple media are excited to welcome him back. And Dallas seems content to let him go — the opera’s board chair has a remarkably gracious quote in the Times piece, and Scott Cantrell of the Dallas Morning News writes a bizarre hit piece on Steel, calling him “remote and aloof” and tittering that he didn’t show up at enough dress rehearsals and patron gatherings. Take it for what it’s worth; Cantrell doesn’t seem to much care for newfangled creations by people not named Mozart or Puccini. For example, the same piece (Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place) that is “much maligned” according to Steve Smith is “generally dismissed” in Cantrell’s estimation.
- Umm, so yeah, it turns out that like a quarter to a half of all nonprofit organizations could lose their tax-exempt status next year. Oops! (In fairness, many of those are probably dead organizations that are still on the books for one reason or another. But if you know someone with a small nonprofit, make sure they read this article!)
I understand that you’re used to working long hours at Lehman Brothers. Not-for-profit people work crazy hours too — without the promise of overtime pay or the possibility of a car service to take us home at 10 p.m. when we finally turn the lights off. (FYI: We turn those lights off by ourselves.)
- Finally, the Lodestar Foundation has an intriguing $250,000 prize for the best merger or collaboration between nonprofit organizations. Two of the eight finalists are arts and culture applicants, and another is a fascinating merger of a YMCA with a JCC in Toledo.