Friday, February 13, 2009

Yes, We Can! Victory for the Arts in Stimulus Bill

This just in from Americans for the Arts... THANK YOU to all who wrote in and conveyed their support!

"Just moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives approved their final version of the Economic Recovery bill. We can now confirm that the package DOES include $50 million in direct support for arts jobs through National Endowment for the Arts grants. We are also happy to report that the exclusionary Coburn Amendment language banning certain arts groups from receiving any other economic recovery funds has also been successfully removed. Tonight the Senate is scheduled to have their final vote, and President Obama plans to sign the bill on Monday - President's Day.

A United Voice
This is an important victory for all of you as arts advocates. More than 85,000 letters were sent to Congress, thousands of calls were made, and hundreds of op-eds, letters to the editor, news stories, and blog entries were generated in print and online media about the role of the arts in the economy. Artists, business leaders, mayors, governors, and a full range of national, state, and local arts groups all united together on this advocacy issue. This outcome marks a stunning turnaround of events and exemplifies the power of grassroots arts advocacy.

We would like to also thank some key leaders on Capitol Hill who really carried our voices into the conference negotiation room and throughout the halls of Congress: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey (D-WI), House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Norm Dicks (D-WA), and Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Louise Slaughter (D-NY). We also want to publicly thank President Obama for taking the early lead in recognizing the role of the arts in economic development. These leaders were able to convincingly make the case that protecting jobs in the creative sector is integral to the U.S. economy.

What's Next
As we wrap up our work on the Economic Recovery legislation, we wanted to share with you other upcoming legislative action that we are tracking:

Finalization by early March of the FY 2009 appropriations, which has been operating under a continuing resolution for the last five months.
Release of President Obama's first federal budget for FY 2010 is expected in late March/early April.

Hearings in the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on the FY 2010 budget.

Hearings in the House Education & Labor Committee on arts in the workforce and arts education.

The 22nd Annual National Arts Advocacy Day conference on Capitol Hill on March 30-31, 2009."

Monday, February 9, 2009

What Price the Arts?

Yesterday the senate voted 73-24 to EXCLUDE the arts and arts organizations from any part of the economic stimulus package. I just received an incredibly valuable update from the wonderful Americans for the Arts (which I will share below) that contains details and links to steps we can take immediately to reverse this appalling amendment. They have already done most of the work for us, providing language and links to send letters to our Senators, to editorial sections of news organizations and even banners we can put on our social networking sites.

As a co-founder of a regional theater, I have experienced firsthand how much arts organizations contribute to the economy of their communities. But perhaps most importantly, the arts are the BEST way to help our children grow up to be compassionate, contributive, creative adults. Kids who participate in, and are exposed to, the arts are not only more likely to be successful in school and in life, but they are four times more likely to grow up to be philanthropic and even VOTE. (They are also twice as likely to be readers!)

Thirteen shows have closed on Broadway since January 1. If this amendment passes, we may well see the shuttering of hundreds of arts organizations across the country. Is this what we want for our kids? Is this the world we want them to inherit? Let's remember the wonderful words of Katherine Anne Porter:

“The arts live continuously, and they live literally by faith; their nature and their shapes and their uses survive unchanged in all that matters through times of interruption, diminishment, neglect; and they outlive governments and creeds and societies, even the very civilizations that produced them. They cannot be destroyed altogether because they represent the substance of faith and the only reality. They are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away.”

... and let's take action today!

Here's the info:

This afternoon the U.S. Senate, during their consideration of the economic recovery bill, approved an egregious amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that stated “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.” Unfortunately, the amendment passed by a wide vote margin of 73-24, and surprisingly included support from many high profile Senators including Chuck Schumer of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and several other Democratic and Republican Senators.

If the Coburn amendment language is included in the final conference version of this legislation, many arts groups will be prevented from receiving economic recovery funds from any portion of this specific stimulus bill. It is clear that there is still much work to be done in the Senate and in the media about the role that nonprofit arts organizations and artists play in the nation’s economy and workforce.

Plan of Action

1. Arts advocates need to quickly contact Senators who voted for the Coburn Amendment and express your extreme disappointment with their vote. We need these Senators to know that their vote would detrimentally impact nonprofit arts organizations and the jobs they support in their state. We have crafted a customized message for you to send to your Senators based on their vote on the Coburn Amendment. The correct letter, customized to each of your Senators will appear when you enter your zip code. If your Senator voted for this funding prohibition, you can send them a message expressing your disappointment and ask them to work to delete this language in the final conference bill with the House. If your Senator voted against the Coburn Amendment, you can thank them for their support of the arts.

2. We need as many news articles as possible this coming week to publish stories about the economic impact of the nonprofit arts industry and how the recession is negatively affecting arts groups across the country. Please click here to customize an opinion editorial to your local media. We have provided you with easy-to-use talking points.

3. Next week, Americans for the Arts will be sending you another action alert that targets the White House and the soon-to-be-named Senators and Representatives who will serve as conferees to the final economic recovery bill. Please be prepared to take action on this alert as well.

4. Americans for the Arts itself is submitting op-eds to several national newspapers and online blogs. We are enlisting high profile leaders to co-sign these letters as well.

5. Americans for the Arts is purchasing full-page ads titled “The Arts = Jobs” in Washington’s top political newspapers in Roll Call, Politico and The Hill on Monday and Tuesday of next week. We encourage you to post the ad on your social network sites.

Please help us continue this important work by becoming an official member of the Arts Action Fund. Play your part by joining the Arts Action Fund today -- it's free and simple.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Reading Without Shame

I have a confession to make - and I hope the literary purists of the world forgive me.

My daughter Hope, age 5, loves the Disney Princesses, My Little Pony, and Barbie stories. Now, she also loves Ramona Quimby - and elected to read through the entire series twice, back to back, this summer - as well as both Winnie the Pooh's, and a score of wonderful picture books, from Olivia to Miss Rumphius.

That's not the confession. This is: I have judgment about which of these reading choices are "better."

But the thing is, she LOVES to read - or, more precisely, to be read to. She loves it with a passion. She would rather listen to a story than watch a video, or play a game, or paint, or draw, or run around, or just about anything else. And I've realized I have to be very careful. Because if she sees me wince - even just a tad - when she asks for another My Little Pony story, or if she feels me 'suggesting' Miss Rumphius over Ariel again just a little too forcefully, she'll begin to pull away. Instead of being a way for her to revel, unbridled and unjudged, in all her dreams and delights, reading may become associated with right and wrong, with correctness, or - worst of all - with shame.

That's not to say I shouldn't keep providing her with all the best books I can. I do understand that one can't appreciate the good stuff unless one is exposed to it. But I have to lead her gently, lightly, without pressure. In the end, her appreciation for Beverly Cleary and A.A. Milne tell me that she'll get to it all - and evolve into a well-rounded, discerning and intelligent young woman in the process. After all, I've been known to enjoy junk food from time to time, and it never turned me off of a great gourmet meal.

Aaarggh! There's that judgment again! Breathe, release, count to three....