I took the family to the coast of Maine for a quiet Thanksgiving. Right before I left, I dropped my first ever online survey (courtesy of zoomerang) on 139 of Vermont's finest arts and cultural organizations in an effort to ascertain how the current economic situation is affecting the folks most directly responsible for maintaining Vermont's cultural infrastructure.
Although the New York Times officially informed me in a breaking news alert just this morning that in fact, we are in a recession and have been in one since last December (!), I am pleased and quite a bit relieved that, so far anyway, the impact of the economic downturn has not yet been felt too badly in Vermont.
The stats so far indicate that between 25% and 35% of respondents are so far only slightly worse off this year than last; about a third are about the same; a sixth are actually doing a bit better, and about a sixth can't really tell yet because it's too early to draw meaningful comparisons.
Without having done this particular survey before, it is impossible to know if these basic stats are different from any other year. My gut tells me they aren't.
Some organizations are always going through a fiscal hardship of one kind or another, and others (usually fewer) are doing okay. This is not news. What is news is what is brewing in Washington DC under the new administration.
The former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Bill Ivey (he brought us the wonderful Challenge America Program in the late 1990s), is among those advising the President-elect on all sorts of matters, not the least of which is returning the NEA to its inflation-adjusted, 1992-equivalent appropriation level of $319 million, which would slightly more than double the support coming to all 50 states from Washington. He is also advocating for a cabinet-level position whose primary function would be to elevate the arts, humanities, and the other small-but-crucial agencies in the minds of those crafting broad public policy mandates around housing, employment, economic development, diplomacy, commerce, transportation, and so on.
There is clearly a new wind blowing in Washington DC, bringing fresh ideas, new collaborations, and new perspectives to the fore.
Thus, despite our second rescission which further lowers our state appropriation by about 12% compared to last year, there is reason for giving thanks.
Artists and arts organizations tend to be survivors. Artists are often the first people to move in and start the process of turning marginal neighborhoods into thriving communities. Arts organizations can often retain their core mission values and continue to operate during economic downturns. We're good at doing more with less.
In six weeks a new President takes over. That's a blink of an eye for us, thank you!