Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No Time to Write

But there has been a lot of awesome stuff going on around the community. Last weekend I saw Riverwalk's The Dead. It was a beautiful production and one I enjoyed far more than I thought I would given how much I dislike James Joyce. It was a slice of life speaking of loss, memories, and the richness of life.

Nor have I stopped thinking about Williamston's The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. It was a very well-done show that surprised me with how different it was from how I remembered reading it. It took me awhile to figure out why, but I think I finally did. When I read the script, I was a teenager. While my situation growing up was nothing like Tillie's, it was Tillie to whom I related the most. When in the silence of a reading experience, the voice that sounded the loudest was hers. She was the one whose story was being told. Now, 25 years later and sitting in a theater, the voice that was sounding the loudest was that of the woman who was screaming and spewing her toxic waste on all those around her. It became more of Beatrice's story and Tillie's ability to survive Beatrice.

You have one more weekend to capture either of those shows.

On Monday, I went to see Z at the Ruhala Performing Arts Center. I have far more to say on that show than a paragraph will allow, so I'm not even going to try unless I find more time.

Up next:
  • Tonight I'm headed to Wharton to see Spring Awakening. I've been completely entranced by the cast recording and can't wait to see the show.
  • Friday will be Tape at LCC
  • Saturday is Hedda Gabler at MSU
I was hoping to get Wappin Wharf and Brothers Grimm squeezed in there too, but right now it's not looking so good because of scheduling and my desperate need to get some freelance work done.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Before I continue...

I would like to share with you a letter from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing and a memo from Art Serve. Please, consider writing a letter or sending an email and expressing your opinion on this issue.

From the Arts Council:


An update from ArtServe Michigan. If you have not already, please help us take action by sending a letter to Governor Granholm!

ArtServe Michigan


Gov Recommends $1,000 Nonrefundable Grant Application Fee!

Not only does the Governor want to nearly zero-out arts and cultural grant funding in Michigan, but ArtServe has learned that she has also recommended increasing the nonrefundable grant application fee from $300 to $1,000. The Governor is essentially making it impossible for smaller organizations to apply for access to a small portion of this $1 million.

If you have not already sent an email through ArtServe's site...DON'T WAIT! Tell the Governor that these cuts are unacceptable!


Note: if the link does not work please copy and paste this into your web browser.

Talking points of local interest:

* The recommendation to nearly eliminate the budget for the arts is in direct opposition to the Governor’s efforts to attract and retain business investment, and talent as a part of restructuring Michigan and its economy. The cuts to the arts from $25.5 million in 2002 to last year’s $7.9 million to the proposed near elimination for 2010 demonstrates a continual disinvestment and contradicts the Governor’s messages to build Cool Cities, attract business investment, and retain talent.

* The arts employ a significant workforce, and purchase goods and services from local businesses in order to operate. Locally more than 500 direct jobs, and more than 1500 indirect jobs are at risk.

* The major festivals in Lansing and East Lansing alone draw 450,000, provide $13.5 million in regional economic impact, nearly 80 direct jobs, more than 400 indirect jobs.

* The arts attract attendees and visitors to our region. Those attendees purchase gas, meals, hotel stays, souvenirs, gifts, and other items from local businesses, providing more than $35 million in local economic impact. Purchases made by the arts and cultural sector together with its attendees positively impact our region with $51.5 million, and provide the state with $2.8 million in tax revenue.

* With the continual cuts to K-12 education, the nonprofit arts sector picks up the slack by working with school districts to provide positive, quality educational programming, and free opportunities for low income families and at-risk youth.

* Last year the MCACA served 17,000 clients. These clients hired 80,000 contracted artists. Overall, Michigan arts and cultural activities support more than 108,000 jobs in the state.

* Last year our state ranked last in its investment in the arts. In 36 hours we invest more in our prison system than we invest in the arts for an entire year.

* The arts employ people; people who must eat and provide food and shelter for their families. Without arts and cultural activities, the unemployment rate will escalate and the state will lose $811.2 million in personal income. In addition, 30,000 jobs in the state would not be retained.

* Arts and cultural opportunities in the greater Lansing define our region and improve quality of life. Without our festivals, events, cultural centers, theaters, galleries and arts educational offerings, what would our region look like?

Federal Stimulus - A Win for Arts and Culture Nationwide

On Friday, Americans for the Arts announced that we have successfully convinced Congress to leave in arts friendly aspects of the stimulus bill. The Conference Committee chose to insert $50 million in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts as well as removing the Coburn Amendment language banning use of recovery funds for arts groups.

Thank you very much to all of you who sent in emails to our members of Congress. Good things happen when we come together to fight for what we believe in!
From Art Serve:

Oops. I received permission from Mike Latvis to reprint the memo, but it is in pdf format which I can't cut and paste at the moment. I'll retype some of the highlights once I turn in the stories that are due today.

In the mean time, you can download the memo for yourself if you'd like here.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Part I: Articulating the Economic Impact of the Arts

Since I committed to writing this series of posts on why the arts should be a part of an economic stimulus package, the issue has become even more urgent here in Michigan. Yesterday, Gov. Granholm announced (among other things) the zeroing out of all operational arts grants in the state. This is a move that will be devastating to arts organizations and cause major job losses around the state.

Because art is seen as affecting the quality of life and not the necessity of life, it is almost always the first item on the cutting board. It gets relegated to the status of pork barrel. Art is always asked to pay the price for the economic mismanagement of all other sectors. And it always does because artists don't require a profit to keep doing what they're doing. Unlike those who will shut their doors or ship jobs overseas if their profits aren't high enough, artists are going to keep practicing their art until they starve to death from it.

Cutting the Arts is Short-Sighted

What is sad is that cutting the arts results from a short-sightedness in not seeing how arts can play a role in economic recovery. And if our politicians are short-sighted, I'd say that even more blame has to fall on those of us who see the value of arts but have not articulated it in a language that can be understood outside our auditoriums, museums, concert halls, and stages.

It is not enough, as was written over at Theatre Ideas, for us to say, "but it's art--it's important." It is, but a lot of things are important--even critically important. The response from the artistic community can not be a self-absorbed one. It must be focused on what it can bring.

Speaking in Numbers

If we want to make a case for the importance of the arts, one of the cases that has to be made is an economic one--and one of numbers. While this study is starting to get a little dated, it is still an important one: In 2002, 3,000 non-profit arts organizations were surveyed and studied. These were the results from "Arts & Economic Prosperity: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts Organizations and Their Audiences" (the bolding is mine):

According to the report, America's nonprofit arts industry generates:

  • $134 billion in economic activity every year, including $24.4 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenues.
  • The $134 billion total includes $53.2 billion in spending by arts organizations and $80.8 billion in event-related spending by arts audiences.
  • The $53.2 billion represents a 45 percent increase (from $36.8 billion) since 1992.
  • The $80.8 billion in event-related spending by arts audiences reflects an average of $22.87 per person in spending for hotels, restaurants, parking, souvenirs, refreshments, or other similar costs-with non-local attendees spending nearly twice as much as local attendees ($38.05 compared to $21.75).
  • The $134 billion in total economic activity has a significant national impact, generating the following: 4.85 million full-time equivalent jobs.
  • $89.4 billion in household income.
  • $6.6 billion in local government tax revenues.
  • $7.3 billion in state government tax revenues.
  • $10.5 billion in federal income tax revenues.

Americans for the Arts has published more recent data based on their ongoing research (and lest you worry about whether there is fuzzy math involved, the research does use Dun & Bradstreet data to map and report on arts-related businesses):

The $166.2 billion in total economic activity has a significant national impact, generating the following:

  • 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs
  • $104.2 billion in household income
  • $7.9 billion in local government tax revenues
  • $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues
  • $12.6 billion in federal income tax revenues

So if we're looking for measurable stimulus, let's start here. I find 5.7 million jobs to be both significant and measurable. The tax revenue generated from non-profits (and think about that one for a moment given that they are exempt from many forms of taxes) is pretty significant.

When we cut the arts, are we saying we don't need jobs? That we don't need tax revenue?

Non-Artists Benefit Economically from Vibrant Arts Organizations

There is another statistic that I'm still trying to find that has found a correlation between how much is spent in each community for every dollar spent on a ticket to an arts event. It is significant in that it is a measure of how much economic impact the arts has on its local community. For every dollar they bring in in ticket sales, far more money goes back into the community in lodging, meals, paint supplies, lumber, fabric, marketing, advertising, etc.

There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the rise of the creative class. Businesses that are failing are those that have failed to innovate and respond to changes in the world. They've cut out research because there isn't an immediate contribution to the bottom line. They eliminate products that have low contribution margins even when those products have value. The arts have the ability to attract workers from the creative class in a way that high salaries won't.

It's Local

Arts spending is also more local than most other spending. When I write about theater, I'm not writing about theater that takes place in New York or London. I write about theater that is happening in my community--just as there are others like me writing about the theater and art that is taking place in their communities. Art doesn't belong to the big cities like Chicago or Washington D.C. (though those are the places where art is most likely to survive in the absence of ongoing funding). It belongs and is taking place in every city and town across the country.

The ironic thing about the Oklahoma senator's amendment to remove arts spending from the economic stimulus bill is that it will hurt small-town America far, far more than it will places like New York, L.A., or Chicago. It's the heartland that he's stuck a knife into, not the coasts where organizations are surviving on the strength of longstanding endowments.

More Research Is Needed

There has been great progress in the past ten years in quantifying the economic value of arts. But there is still a long way to go. There are many things that artists "think" or "feel" that arts benefits, but without the hard data, we'll continue to have people who think that the benefits of art are purely subjective and apply only to a small niche of the population.

I would love to see a study done on the correlation of property values and strong arts communities. We know that the arts can draw people to a community and gets them to stay. It builds bonds between people. When a community is attractive to people, that tends to have an effect on property values--however, I know of no hard data I could point to on that subject. Yet, it is measurable.

Yes, art is subjective. The need for it, though, and its benefits are something that can be measured and must be if it is going to survive.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Until I Return...

...with my discussions, I would invite you to read this blog entry over at Theatre Ideas.

A quick excerpt:

The point I was trying to make about the arts in the stimulus package is not that the NEA funding ought to be removed from the bill, but rather that as artists we need stop seeing opposition to the arts as the sign of narrow-minded cretinism and instead form our arguments with some sort of historical awareness and sociological knowledge and, yes, understanding of opposing viewpoints. We have to learn from our total bungling of the NEA flap of the 1990s, during which artists couldn't marshal much more than sputtered "How dare you question us! We are artistes!"and a few airy generalities in defense of the arts in American society.

Continuing a Conversation

While I try to respond to most comments immediately on my blog, sometimes there is a delay. This delay might be because of my other time commitments or it might be because I want to take the time to formulate a thoughtful response. Sometimes it is both.

Such is the case with a comment my dear brother-in-law left on my last blog entry. It's a comment that deserves far more than a quick thank you and reaction. He brings up several points that I think the arts community has been engaging and needs to continue to engage. So I'm very grateful that he left the comment and is giving me an opportunity to articulate further what I think are some very important points. However, so I don't over-weary my readers, I'll break up my response into three points in three separate blog postings. And because I'm under a lot of deadline pressure at the moment, I'll be stretching my response out over the rest of the week.

First, let me quote Ron's comment:

I know a lot of arts folks will disagree, but I'm not the least surprised this vote went this way. I doubt how much measurable stimulus the arts generate. I imagine that any measure of the benefit would be subjective and a topic of much heated debate.

The only lasting employment the gov't ever provides is bureaucracy and the military. Capitalism creates wealth. I guess my list of candidates for stimulus spending includes a lot of boring things like:

-Infrastructure support (repair of roads, bridges, water, electricity and gas distribution) because this will generate a lot of jobs and provide a lasting benefit to anyone and everyone who uses them. We rely on roads to transport everything we need These funds should also require at least a partial match in funding from the state. Construction can also be a crooked business, so oversight is indicated.
-Basic Transportation for people and goods, urban and rural, including buses and trains, because so many rely on these things to get about. Bus companies (for example) are privately owned, so matching funds, contractual commitments, and oversight must be required.
-Basic energy spending to shore up aging power generation and distribution, stiffen up the grid to avoid disastrous outages, and keep prices low.
-City spending to purchase and demolish abandoned housing, retail space, and manufacturing space, and generate replacements as needed. Lots of manpower (jobs) required.
-Directed, results-based manufacturing spending. This would require a lot of haggling, but I think (for example) that auto manufacturers would build an open-source vehicle perfect as affordable, reliable, basic, minimal, safe local transportation if that was the only way they'd get funding and if regulations were eased.
-Money to buy handguns to shoot and fund bounties on lawyers.

The arts? I think they should be market-driven and self-supporting, including philanthropic endowments. It's long been that way; composers, painters, and others have had patrons for ages. If your art sucks, it will not feed you and you'll change it. We should all support our local buskers, and we'd be wise to heed this advice:

If thou of fortune be bereft,
And in thy store there be but two left
Two loaves-sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.
- James Terry White
Very well-reasoned and some excellent points. The three issues that I would like to respond to are:
  1. Articulating the economic impact that arts have on our communities and the nation.
  2. Integrating arts funding into such areas as infrastructure, housing, and urban redevelopment (along with the observation that perhaps if more people participated in the arts, we wouldn't have to shoot the lawyers because we'd be able to out-think the charlatans while rewarding those that make our legal system work)
  3. Addressing capitalism and the need for a dual system of market and gift economies to make it work.
Stay tuned--and I'll try not to get dull or over-wordy. :) (The key word there is "try." Feel free to call me out on it if I do.)

I'd also welcome anyone else's participation in the conversation.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Frustrating News

I've been following Art Serve's push to get arts and culture included in the economic stimulus plan. It's something I've been encouraged by because of the important role that the arts are able to play in a recovery on multiple levels. Yes, they provide jobs, they stimulate spending in local economies, they raise property values, and they encourage commitment to local communities. Just as importantly, the arts raise people's spirits, encourage the creativity necessary to overcome the problems that we are facing, provide a sense of historical perspective, foster tolerance and community building, and give people hope when they have little.

So this news that came out in an ArtServe alert today almost makes me want to cry:

As some of you have already heard, yesterday, the US Senate voted to adopt an amendment to the federal stimulus that would bar any stimulus money for arts and culture. Please read the message below from Americans for the Arts as well as our steps of action needed.

Just a few minutes ago, the U.S. Senate voted to accept, by a vote of 73-24, an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) which states, "None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project."

This amendment, which was supposedly intended to restrict objectionable spending in a few select federal infrastructure programs, will resulted in prohibiting any spending through the economic recovery in these areas. This is the first clear vote on the arts that has occured in the U.S. Senate since July 12, 2000. The Senate final bill passage is still unclear, although it is expected to take place later tonight. Next week they will have a House-Senate conference committee to agree to a final version for the President to sign.

If this is not taken out of the final bill the project submissions that were sent to Governor Granholm would be void. Senator Debbie Stabenow voted for this amendment and we need your help to get her to re-think her decision as she could be vital in getting this language taken out while the bill is in conference committee. Americans for the Arts has already crafted a letter for you which can be sent by visiting this website: