Week Fifty Two

Sally Deskins: A list of things to consider about the arts right now

Posted in Art news, general interest by sarahbakerhansen on 13 March 2009

Sally Deskins is a regular contributor for the Omaha Reader and a new contributor to Week Fifty Two. This week, she’s working on a story about the recession, the arts, the Obama administration and how it all might pan out. Read more about Sally and her work at the end of her first post.

By Sally Deskins

 As I’m thinking about what to write for my article this week about how the arts are looking now and how they might look in the next four years, there are so many issues to consider.  As a preview, I’m going to pin-point some things I will review, and a few things I will not discuss in my article.  Please note: My opinions do not reflect those of Week Fifty Two or any other bloggers; they are solely mine.

So here goes: A List of Things to Consider About the Arts Right Now…In no particular order…

-On Tuesday [March 10], the U.S. Senate passed the FY 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act. The bill includes a significant $10 million increase for both the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities, which sets their budgets at $155 million each. The legislation also increases the budget for Arts in Education programs at the Department of Education to $38.16 million. (artsusa.org)

-Arts Organizations are closing, cutting costs, freezing hiring, and even selling their precious art work in order to stay alive all over the country…just do a simple search and you’ll find many.  Galleries in Omaha closing as well: Adam Whitney, Heller Art Images…

-Universities are cutting arts programs, even liberal arts programs, as they might be deemed “impractical.” We all know of the Brandeis University deal, closing their Rose Museum of Art and selling its art collection for funding (although they might be backing out of it now, with bad PR). Right here, the University of NE-Omaha Gallery director position was cut last summer.

– Arts education is being cut in elementary and high schools as well.  Many high schools in Omaha do not require an art course for high-schoolers, some do not have it even as an elective.  It isn’t a priority since there isn’t required testing on the subject of arts.

-Arts sales are down (see Christie’s), artists are losing their jobs at a rapid pace (see NEA study), arts participation is down (NEA study) and theatres are losing box office sales, cutting costs and staff (bloomberg.com); Donations are down, and corporate donations are expected to plunge this year (Bloomberg.com).

-John F Kennedy Center for Performing Arts offers free financial counseling to arts managers nationwide

-back-and-forth, and finally back: $50 million set to NEA in the President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: 40% to state and regional arts councils, 60% to nonprofit arts organizations who meet eligibility criteria (must have be an NEA awardee vet), all funds of which must be used to preserve jobs.  Celebration for the arts? Maybe not, says economist Richard Florida, its not enough to matter: “…if the stimulus were allocated proportionately, between $250-billion and $375-billion should have gone to the U.S. creative economy.”

-Re: NE: the Nebraska Arts Council  is currently working on grant applications for some of the stimulus money to help aid Nebraska artists and arts organization workers, which deadline has been extended to March 19 (was March 13), the funds awarded should come in a couple of months, as this is supposed to be a speedy act to make an immediate impact. 

-President Obama highly publicized for valuing the arts—visiting museums, hosting concerts, assembling a National Arts Policy Committee for his original presidential campaign, and supporting increased funding for the arts, as well as a bill that would allow artists to deduct the total fair market value of their work rather than just the materials.  His appreciation for the arts, and holding it as a priority in his daily life, in my opinion, is the best type of government support for the arts.

-Talk of a “secretary of the arts:” proponents want an arts advocate in the cabinet to provide ample cohesion in the field and bring about impressive programs and assure their recognition, and financing “they deserve.”  They like to bring up President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration that funded and brought about many notable artists including photographer Walter Evans.  What they leave out is the part that broke it up, the Federal Theatre Project, whose productions were sometimes “controversial” and ended up  losing the support for the arts in government, and also causing a decrease in support overall in the nation.  A controversy like this also arose in the 1980s, causing uproar against the NEA and its legitimacy, which was reflected in the overall feeling towards the arts.  So, why bring politics into the arts or vice versa? Art cannot be centralized. It is fundamentally different from all different activities in society and thus, in my opinion, should be separate.

-“Trimming of the Fat” – could this recession be good for the arts? Some say it will bring out only the best and brightest, most dedicated.  Holland Cotter, notable art critic for the New York Times, noted that the economic crisis of the 1980s “opened the art world’s tightly guarded gates to a wave of upstart talent and radical new ways of thinking…it could happen again.” (12/21/08).  Some say it is good for the arts in general, because it brings people into creating and participating in things creative: arts participation in England has actually increased since the recession.  Maybe this is cutting is bringing art back down to the people. (See Sarah’s March 5 entry and link to NYTimes article).

-New chair of the NEA: Much talk but no definite.  Dana Gioia, appointed by Bush in 2003, happily stepped down (now he can go back to being a writer), known only for his good leadership and successes, mostly in the area of writing.  He increased the NEA’s budget which was at its low of $100 million in 1996 to $144 million in 2007.  Not so bad, huh?

-Details and a quote from NAC Executive Director Suzanne Wise, and another Omaha notable on the topic, to come in The Reader on Thursday.

About Sally Deskins:

I will write reviews, previews and artist features with a focus on events and artists relating to educational institutions and arts news of note occuring “way out west (of 72nd).”  All genres, styles and medium of artists interest me that show passion in their work; most arts events interest me that show respect and regard for their community.

I have been a freelance arts contributor for The Reader since 2006 with degrees in studio art and public administration from both major Nebraska public universities.  I teach Arts Administration at Metropolitan Community College and pay particular attention to trends in the field of arts managment, arts policy and how the arts affect communities.  I contributed to the 2007 Peter Kiewit-funded project, “The Economic Impact of Omaha Performing Arts” and currently have an article under second review with Review of Regional Studies, “Does State Arts Spending Affect State Economic Activity?” with my husband and Creighton economist, John Deskins.  I also play mama to my daughter, May (2) and upcoming son, Henry (due in June).

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4 Responses

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  1. Rita Paskowitz said, on 15 March 2009 at 9:57 am

    Sally –
    This is such a challenging time…
    For those of us working in the arts.
    It’s great…
    To get your views and insights.
    Keep up the good work!
    – Reet

  2. Eddith Buis said, on 15 March 2009 at 11:01 am

    Hi…I, too am an art teacher at Metro, (1010 Fundamentals),and thank you for caring about our field! Am currently embroiled in a public art project to launch in late March, “Bike Blast”…an effort to get kids interested in bicycling for health by earning free bikes, helmets, and locks, and walking their spiffy creations in the “Cinco de Mayo” Parade May 2nd. We’re also holding a 3rd floor open house at Hot Shops, 5-8pm on May1st, to show bike rack designs by local artists, that may be sponsored in the Metro area…if you want info for an article, let me know, we need to get the word out! Thanks, Eddith Buis

  3. Sally Deskins said, on 19 March 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Eddith, I have seen your work, I actually own a little magnet you made a few years back and I love it. Thanks for keeping up!

    Also here’s an update on the arts/culture in the White House…

    Cultural Post at White House
    New York Times, 3/13/2009
    “President Barack Obama has established a staff position in the White House to oversee arts and culture in the Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs under Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser, a White House official confirmed.” The position will be held by Kareem Dale, a lawyer who is partly blind, and has previously worked with Obama on disability policy and arts policy. Former NEA head Bill Ivey, “who served as the administration’s transition-team leader for the arts and humanities,” says he expects “that the job would mainly involve coordinating the activities of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services ‘in relation to White House objectives.'”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/14/arts/14arts-CULTURALPOST_BRF.html

  4. Sally Deskins said, on 19 March 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Also Eddith – send any info to me at sallydeskins@yahoo.com, or to the Reader at listings@thereader.com.


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