In a recent posting, we wondered about possible long-term impact from the infusion of art into the public square via the election and inauguration.
One commenter noted that the jobs legislation, passed by the House of Representatives in late January, proposes to increase available funding to the arts and that this suggestion has generated some controversy.
A front page story in the New York Times seems to have focused attention on this (relatively quite small) allocation of funds in the federal bill currently under consideration in Congress.
Are arts and culture a luxury or a necessity? Will additional funds for the sector make our economy stronger? Is arts a job?
When I was in elementary school, my class would take a bus downtown to Music Hall to hear the Symphony along with hundreds of other Cincinnati area students. And when classmates learned for the first time that my parents were players in the Symphony, they would ask me questions like: “Is that a real job?” or “How do they make money?” And I would explain that playing an instrument in the Symphony in Cincinnati was indeed a real job – even if it had unusual (in our limited experience) hours like the Friday and Saturday night shifts.
Today, I know that my parents had not just real jobs, but good jobs with decent pay and benefits like health care and a pension – especially compared to many jobs in our national labor market today. It wasn’t always this way for orchestra musicians. But at some point in my childhood, our Symphony became a year-around job and the organization officially took on the assignment of playing for the summer Opera . (My Mom tells me that before this addition to the schedule, Opera jobs were open to about half the Orchestra players, but only men because -- as she was told when she asked about it -- they had “families to support”. Times were such that this didn’t even surprise, let alone offend, her.)
There really shouldn’t be a question now about whether it makes sense to support our arts and culture infrastructure along with other jobs in our economy. We need good jobs – both those we can create and those we can retain.
The fact that arts funding in the bill has been highlighted in the media and questioned by some commentators suggests that we need to do something to build more understanding and support for the contributions of artists and art administrators.
This week, the U.S. Senate takes up consideration of the federal policy to create and retain jobs. At this point, Senators have not chosen to include funding for jobs in the arts and culture sector. If you want to read more about the proposal, take a look at the comments of one of President Bush's appointees to a national arts board and a representative of arts organizations across the country.
In December 2007, a committee of leaders convened by The Greater Cincinnati Foundation to review our regional arts and culture sector reported on two years of work on best practices, community needs, and asset development.
This group determined that the best way to move forward would be to strengthen and formalize their informal partnership with a local leadership organization to develop arts and culture access, appreciation, participation, and support.
A Haile/U.S. Bank Foundation grant enabled the Fine Arts Fund to create the Arts & Culture Partnership and implement a year of discovery about how to move forward. One year later, the leadership of the Fund and Partnership approved new and exciting strategic priorities for both entities.
The Cincinnati Enquirer has just published our commentary on the vision that inspires us in this endeavor. You can read the entire op-ed online – and here is part of the essay.
We aspire to live in a region with vibrant arts and cultural offerings that provide value to the entire community. We believe that art and cultural experiences can move people to participate, share, and act in the civic and economic interest of all. These events and activities are part of our heritage and must be a treasured part of our future. To sustain and strengthen our arts and culture, we must engage the community at large in a conversation about the opportunities that add value and relevance to our lives. We want to support and encourage meaningful arts and cultural experiences for residents and visitors throughout the region, build bridges across place and community, identify and fill gaps that are relevant to the diverse residents of our region.
Sustaining and enhancing this regional vision requires an expanded new leadership role and a commitment to focusing on outcomes, as well as a compelling, engaging conversation about the role of arts and culture for a vital community. We seek to become the leadership organization that will build a sense of public responsibility for our arts and cultural heritage and future. Our community can thus ensure we have the people, policy, and resources for arts and cultural experiences that offer joy, inspire sharing, provide strength, and nurture imagination for a strong future.
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During the campaign, election graffiti appeared all over the country and several websites celebrated art inspired by the contest. The Art of Obama website creators "seek to archive the vast amount of art works being created for/about Barack Obama." And the Obama Art Report reported daily “on the world of Barack Obama artwork, prints and auctions."
There is even a flickr group tracking election street art.
Inaugural week in DC, street vendors and small shop owners offered specialty items created by artists for the occasion: miniature paintings featuring the phrase “Be the Change”, Obama-likeness felt finger puppets and refrigerator magnets,‘bama blooms, and specialty pins -- including my personal favorite: “Jump for Joy”.
We’re wondering – what was it about this election that generated so much creativity?
On the Monday afternoon before the inaugural ceremony, we made our way through the crowds in the streets of Georgetown to experience the MANIFESTHOPE:DC Exhibit. The exhibit's partners hosted a contest for visual artists inviting submissions of any “… creation that uses positive messaging to convey the urgency and importance of encouraging a national dialogue” about the contest’s three policy
themes—health care, workers’ rights, and the green economy.
MANIFESTHOPE’s leaders recognize the power of visual art to influence policy:
"Art plays a pivotal role in creating cultural momentum. The MANIFESTHOPE:DC Gallery celebrates that role and shines a spotlight on artists who use their voices to amplify and motivate the grassroots movement that carried President-Elect Barack Obama to victory."
And the effort is expected to continue utilizing a visual call-to-action and working with artists to impact specific policies in the coming years. (Supporters kicked off the action with the exhibit and a party the weekend before the election.)
"…the visuals connected to the Obama campaign seemed on a higher level than the political norm. Clearly the candidate and his message motivated artists and designers to do inspired work. Not surprisingly, the Obama campaign, well known for its fundraising prowess, was an active agent in the commissioning and disseminating of work."
Of course, the inaugural ceremony itself included a performance of new chamber music played by four talented
New York Times music reporter Anthony Tommasini noted in a recent blog post:
"President Obama’s administration was ushered in with a new chamber music work by a living American composer. Classical singers have performed for inaugurations in recent decades. But to have a new instrumental piece played was most unusual, something that should gratify classical music lovers."
Apparently, John Williams – the composer of the new music – was aware of the President’s fondness for the works of American composer Aaron Copland – and the piece reflects that awareness. (Got that? Our new President has opinions about American classical music.)
Another New York Times reporter, Robin Pogrebin, pointed out in a news article:
"Much of the clamor [among arts supporters] arises from anticipation stirred by Mr. Obama’s campaign remarks about the importance of the arts. One of the few candidates with an arts platform, he called for a young “artist corps” to work in low-income schools and neighborhoods; affordable health care and tax benefits for artists; and efforts at cultural diplomacy, like dispatching artist-ambassadors to other countries."
What will this election art mean for broader public support of the arts and new policy in the coming years? We’ll be considering that question in future posts.
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In late December, we were surprised and sorry to see news on the front page of the Enquirer that the Cincinnati Ballet canceled a performance of the Nutcracker – for the first time ever.
Mention of the Cincinnati Ballet decision made it into media stories across the country about the impact of the economy on nonprofits -- including in Lexington, North Carolina, California, and New York
But wait until you hear the “rest of the story”!
After the announcement appeared on the front page of the Enquirer, the Ballet had four record ticket-sale days. There's a theory among the staff that the spotlight of the front page let people in our community know that they could still get a ticket to the beloved holiday show.
The Ballet staffers heard from ticket buyers that they were surprised to learn that they could get a ticket. And apparently, these Enquirer readers called in large numbers!
Of course, we don't know for sure – but is it possible that a different kind of news coverage would lead to more access and participation in arts events in our community?
Maybe we need more high-profile stories about upcoming opportunities to share in our arts. This kind of attention might be useful all the time -- not just when the economy is strained. It's an idea worth testing. In this case, bad news rapidly became good news for the Ballet.
Overall, Nutcracker attendance this recent holiday season exceeded the previous year by thousands. The Ballet offered some special ticket prices in light of the economy – still revenue was only down by two percent compared to last year.
This is all splendid news since the Nutcracker is so important to the fiscal health of the Ballet – and equally importantly, it’s excellent that so many have the Nutcracker experience and memory…. one of the great joys of living in our community.
Cincinnati Enquirer reporters Janelle Gelfand and Jackie Demaline detailed the busy season of live performances -theater, music, and dance - in our future with a series of articles. (Indeed, we're also exceedingly grateful that our local daily print media still has reporters and critics highlighting and covering these events, along with offerings at museums and galleries and regional arts centers.)
In today's economy, we're extraordinarily fortunate for our local heritage of investment in arts and culture that puts us in good stead as we face an uncertain economic future in the near term.
News reports of budget struggles in organizations that depend on public support filled newspapers across the country this holiday season.
Nonprofits and public agencies that provide critical social and economic benefits are struggling as tax revenues and private asset portfolios of foundations and individuals decline significantly and unexpectedly.
Reporters Gelfand and Demaline also covered the worst of this local situation in a front-page article: The Show Must Go On.
Sure. We've seen some prudent retrenchment and anticipate that many local leaders will focus on ensuring that our high expectations continue to be met while still living within more limited means.
Yet, we are fortunate that the long-term support and investment (in both dollars and time) from community residents has created a place to live that provides us with so many spaces for sharing and experiencing art, including some that are open to all without charge such as the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Fine Arts Fund Sampler Weekend, events at our local universities, and other community-based events all over the region.
As we look forward to the kickoff of our annual Fine Arts Fund campaign, we're grateful that we've built a long record (we're the oldest fund in the country!) of success through broad community participation with more than 44,000 donors.
Our campaign relies on many modest contributions, not one-time big donations. Our community invests in the arts, which has put us in position today to weather this storm.
As we look to the future, we believe that arts and culture events can help everyone manage the stress and uncertainty of these times. And we're striving to ensure that the value of these experiences will move all of us to share, participate, contribute, educate, and raise our sense of civic commitment to this wonderful community.
Of course, we're all frustrated by the limitations and suffering created by this economic downturn. But it's in these times that sharing experiences -- like live theater, music, exhibits about history and culture, dancing and singing -- with our friends and neighbors is a critical investment in our health, strength, and happiness. Access and participation in the arts for everyone is a necessity now, not a luxury we can forego until times are better.
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01/13/2009 9:18 AM | Dick Waller |
I thank Margy Waller (my daughter) for reminding us how fortunate we are to be living in a city that values arts and culture so greatly. We have an extraordinary wealth of art, music, theater, dance, etc., that enriches our lives. In my opinion, the availability of these cultural offerings is a necessity, not a luxury, and an integral part of our city life.
01/12/2009 10:40 AM | Teresa Hoelle |
01/09/2009 11:17 AM | Peter Elia |
01/09/2009 7:32 AM | Missie Santomo |
Thank you. This is great!
01/08/2009 7:12 PM | Ed Stern |
Wonderfully done.Thank you so much. Ed Stern