Monday, February 23, 2009

Participate, Donate, Advocate, STIMULATE…

Every time I go anywhere these days I’m asked about the Arts and the Stimulus Bill. The Senate voted to exclude the Arts from the Stimulus Bill, but the House successfully put the Arts back in during Conference Committee negotiations. President Obama signed it last week in Denver. Following the signing, a whole new discussion has begun.

What’s the money for, and when/how will it be distributed?

Here’s what we know:

1) The Stimulus Bill that includes $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) which, for those of you who like this kind of statistic, is slightly less than 64 ten-thousandths of one per cent of the total Stimulus Bill!

2) There are essentially three pools of “Stimulus Bill Funds” that will be available to serve the Arts in Vermont (and every other state and district as well):

· The portion of the NEA funds (expected to be 40% of the $50 million) that will be divided among the 57 states and regions. For Vermont, this could be in the low six figures.

· The remaining 60% of the NEA funds (less about 5% for overhead)—or about $29 million—will be available through competitive grant programs administered by the NEA.

· An as-yet undetermined amount of additional Stimulus Funds going directly to the State to stimulate employment in a variety of fields—not just the Arts. This is the largest chunk of money and will probably be managed by a combination of the Governor, Administration, and Legislature. For large cultural facilities projects (and there are a few that I am aware of), you should be in touch with your local planning commission, local legislators, and community economic development offices for guidance on how to tap into these funds.

Here’s what we’re pretty sure of:

1) The earliest I have heard from anyone that one can expect money from the NEA to start being distributed is June 15, 2009. The reason for this is they have to decide what kinds of programs, services, and activities are fundable under the Bill. Specifically, the Stimulus Bill is supposed to be about infrastructure improvements that retain employment. This is, as one might imagine, subject to a great deal of interpretation by the powers-that-be in Washington DC.

2) Though not definite yet, the 40% of the NEA funding coming to Vermont is expected to be administered by the Vermont Arts Council and not put directly into the the State's General Fund.

Here’s what we don’t know:

1) We don’t know any definite dollar amounts or dates of distribution of the funds.

2) We don’t know any definitions of terms or what, if any, restrictions are being placed on the use of the funds.

3) We don’t know the time frame within which funds must be expended, and reported out on.

4) We don’t know when we’ll find out all the answers to these unknowns—although, a spokesperson for the NEA has suggested that their guidelines are expected to start appearing as early as mid- to late-March.

All I know is that there is a lot of need out there. The sooner we can resolve the unknowns and get the dollars flowing, the better off we will all be. Until then, hang tight and we’ll keep you apprised of any developments as they occur.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Importance of Doing One's Ditty

As a kid we used to sing familiar tunes that contained alternative lyrics. One of my favorite ditties was a take-off on the Seven Dwarfs' * "Whistle While You Work" which contained disparaging references to Hitler and Mussolini. Another was one my grandmother used to sing while out sailing off the coast of Maine. [* This is not a mistake. It's Dwarfs not Dwarves.]

"Be kind to your web-footed friends...for a duck may be somebody's mo-o-o-ther"

Senator Coburn, this one's for you. Enough with the insults. Your amendment to S.1 that exempts a bunch of perfectly respectable folks from ever seeing one penny of the so-called stimulus money passed the Senate overwhelmingly. Congratulations to you and your 73 short-sighted colleagues (happily, NONE of which hailed from Vermont--no surprise there). You have successfully insulted some very articulate constituents.

Specifically exempted from the Senate version of the Stimulus Bill, thanks to the infamous Coburn Amendment, are casinos or other gambling establishments, aquariums, zoos, golf courses, swimming pools, stadiums, community parks, museums, theaters, art centers, and highway beautification projects.

I guess we are to understand that people who work for these establishments--call them America's entertainment industry if you wish--don't matter much to you Senator. We aren't as "good" as people who work in, what, the building trades? the auto industry? Banking and finance? Or is it just that our jobs aren't as good? You know...the jobs that a lot of us hold down in Vegas, at hotel resorts, on Broadway, in the local arts presenting organization which, by the way the last time I checked was putting food on MY table and MY tax dollars in the US Treasury?

Senator, it's a stimulus bill right? It's supposed to keep Americans who have a job, working; and provide new opportunities to Americans who don't have a job. Are you suggesting that my job in the Arts (along with my fellow 6000 employees in the Vermont arts sector) isn't worthy enough to even have a shot at participating in the stimulus bill...?

I could get all fussy on you, Senator, about the fact that I pay taxes and I drive cars and I buy food and I raise children and I pay taxes. But I'll leave it to all my working artist and arts administrative friends and associates who all pay their taxes and drive their cars and buy their food and raise their children and pay their taxes to carry the fussiness to your sorry doorstep.

Did I mention we all pay taxes?

You see, Senator, I don't believe it is in the best interests of getting America back on track from eight years of disastrous leadership from YOUR party to discriminate against entire sectors of the economy. I feel this way for a couple of reasons. One, none of us working at our jobs in the fields your amendment names, is really very different from the people who you feel somehow are more worthy of receiving the fruits of this stimulus bill money. So why pick on us? What are you afraid of?

Two, this kind of discrimination is really counterproductive, especially in light of the fact that America needs all of its creative ingenuity to get itself out of this mess we are stuck in. In one brilliantly executed, bone-headed maneuver you have disengaged one of America's most creative sectors from participating in this important national discussion: How do we lift ourselves out of this swamp you and yours have dropped us in?

Thanks. Thanks a lot. From all of us. Again.

And speaking of swamps...

"Be kind to your friends in the swamp...where the weather is cold and damp."

On second thought...swamps are amazing places when you think about them. They are incredibly fertile places, teeming with all sorts of (sometimes alien) life, and occasionally giving off really noxious fumes. As a metaphor, the swamp fits us all perfectly--us who, according to you, should be denied access to stimulus funding.

Artists (indeed ALL creative people) thrive in a swamp. We depend on each other for sustenance, for energy, for life. Sure we can live with the stink, because the stink is what keeps away people who threaten our lifestyle. People like, um, YOU, Senator!

Okay, enough of that...

If it hasn't occurred to those (few) of you who do me the honor of reading these biweekly rants that--as usual--we're likely to be once again on our own, hear it here first. We're likely to be on our own again.

But let's turn this into a good thing. Heck artists in lower Manhattan turned neighborhood after neighborhood around with very little assistance from the likes of Senator Coburn. Artists never abandoned such lovely destinations as Bridgeport, CT in the 80's when Bridgeport rivaled the South Bronx for Dante's Divine Circle of Hell Award for residential lifestyles. We can probably do pretty well without stimulus money.

But oh, the missed opportunity...

The missed opportunity.

"So you might think this is the end...well it is."