Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We're Moving! Visit the New Site of The Clyde Fitch Report!

Update your bookmarks!
Update your blogrolls!

After more than 1,200 posts on blogspot, The Clyde Fitch Report is moving.

You can now find The Clyde Fitch Report at and (Same URL.)

Come to the new Clyde Fitch Report! Send your comments to the new site! Tell me what you think!

And thanks, my dear readers and dear, dear Clyde. You're all the very best. :-)

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

While the Burst Housing Bubble Destroys America, He Says "Build, Build, Build!"

This post is cross-posted at the beta Clyde Fitch Report. Do check it out and send comments.

I didn't want too much time to elapse before commenting on an op-ed that ran in the Times last Sunday. It's written by a man named Charles J. Urstadt, and before I write a little bit about who he is, let's take a good look at his piece, in which he writes that "land expansion is now the key to our economic recovery." In fact, he says, there are five ways Manhattan (I guess the other four boroughs can sink into the sea) can grow:

1. Develop Governor's island. Among other things, "The success of Battery Park City shows that this can be done without government money: building owners would pay ground rent and payments in lieu of taxes (known as Pilot payments) to an organization not unlike the Battery Park City Authority, which would then deduct operating costs and pay the “profits” to the city." And yes, Urstadt addresses, rather flimsily in my view, the accessibility issue.

2. Tear down Pier A at the foot of Manhattan: "Better to replace the pier with a five-acre quay similar to the Circular Quay in Sydney. A quay could serve as a central ferry terminal, which would pay for itself with fees paid by the ferry boat operators."

3. Develop the South Cove of Battery Park City, adding two acres to Manhattan: "By simply extending the existing bulkhead, eliminating the cove and filling it with sand — as we did to create the rest of Battery Park City — we would have the base for an iconic building....Again, ground rents and Pilot payments would more than pay for the bulkhead and landfill with no expenditure of taxpayer money — and a monumental building on that new land could also produce a substantial profit for the city."

4. Develop 50 more acres of landfill in the Hudson River on the West Side, north of Battery Park City: "The cost of the landfill, as well as of the public park and recreational spaces that would be part of the new area, could be reimbursed from ground rents and Pilot payments collected from private developers. I have been advocating this additional landfill project for some time and have been faced with the bogus argument that it would kill the fish." Oh, and by the way, Urstadt says that "fish actually prefer the nooks and crannies of the rock formations surrounding Battery Park City’s north marina" and that "not a single fish was killed as we filled the original 92 acres of Battery Park City." (This may be giving you a clue as to who Urstadt is.)

5. Fill in the Harlem River: "....if we were to drain the Harlem River, we would actually restore the land to its original state....eventually the entire area would have some 3,000 acres that could be used for parks, schools, businesses and homes."

Notice how Urstadt referes to housing last. As if people matter less than buildings. Well, this man would know: he was the chairman of the Battery Park City Authority from 1968 to 1978, as per the tagline on the Times story. More pertinent, though, Urstadt is the author and/or purveyor of many anti-renter, anti-apartment dwelling law and guideline in New York City. In short, he is the reason your rent is so high. Check out this page on

The Urstadt Law, named after Charles Urstadt, former Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s housing commissioner, was enacted in 1971 as part of Rockefeller’s vacancy-decontrol legislation. It specifically barred New York City from adopting rent limitations that are “more stringent or restrictive than those presently in effect” even as the housing crisis deepened.

As a result the democratic will of New York City residents is frustrated and the local legislature left powerless to address local housing conditions. From the vacancy-decontrol disaster of the 1970s to the weakening of rent and eviction protections in 1997, New York City real-estate interests have been able to use campaign contributions to buy support from upstate legislators—while city voters are ignored. The Urstadt Law is the basis for a pending lawsuit by property owners challenging a New York City law concerning building valuation that prevented landlords from giving enormous hikes to New York City’s 70,000 remaining rent-controlled households. It also restricts the City Council from reversing the massive deregulation imposed by the state legislature in 1993 and 1997.

By preventing the City Council from acting to preserve affordable housing, the Urstadt Law is an unconscionable restriction on the democratic “home rule” of New York City residents. It restricts our ability to control our policy and our destiny on a strictly local issue.

…But even though the ETPA reversed Rockefeller’s vacancy-decontrol measure, state courts have held that the Urstadt Law remains in effect and prevents cities “having a population of one million or more” (i.e., New York City) from enacting stronger rent regulations without the approval of the state housing commissioner. The Urstadt law does not prevent cities from exercising “police powers” to protect life, health and safety by regulating building conditions, evictions and other areas where health and safety are involved.

Charles Urstadt’s curse on New York City tenants did not stop with the 1971 law which bears his name. A major real-estate owner, he was one of the architects of Governor George Pataki’s 1994 transition platform, which made explicit the intention to end rent and eviction protections entirely, a promise which took giant steps toward realization in the Rent Regulation Reform Act of 1997.

Here's an excerpt from another story -- this one from Gotham Gazette -- on this paragon of urban development:
Ask most housing advocates what one move would improve the lot of tenants in New York City, and they would answer: Repeal of the Urstadt Law. The state law, which then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller pushed through in 1971, and which Governor George Pataki strengthened in 2003, is named after Rockefeller’s housing commissioner, Charles Urstadt. For more than three decades, it has effectively handcuffed the city when it comes to dealing with the main problems facing housing here -- rents and evictions.

That is because the law largely took control of rent regulation out of the hands of the city government and gave it to the state legislature. The legislature, a body with many representatives from upstate districts that have few renters, has weakened rent regulation laws year after year. Changes in the rent regulation laws have resulted in what some estimate to be more than 100,000 rent stabilized apartments in New York City becoming “decontrolled” – the rents hiked up to whatever the landlord wants to charge.
Oh, and Mr. Urstadt appears to live in Connecticut. Go figure.

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My Name Is Kareem Dale and I Am Going to Be Your Arts Czar

This post is cross-posted at the beta Clyde Fitch Report. Do check it out and send comments.

There is much buzz in the InterTubes that President Obama has appointed the long-awaited, much-hoped-for Arts Czar.

Personally, I hope it's true.

And if it is true, his name is Kareem Dale, and here's a story on his appointment, which is based on a report that was published in the New York Times over the weekend, which I am herewith giving to all of you:

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. Kareem Dale, right, a lawyer who last month was named special assistant to the president for disability policy, will hold the new position. Mr. Dale, who is partly blind, previously served as national disability director for the Obama campaign. He also served on the arts policy committee and the disability policy committee for Mr. Obama when he was a senator from Illinois. Bill Ivey, who served as the administration’s transition-team leader for the arts and humanities, said he was encouraged by the appointment and would meet with Mr. Dale next week. “It’s a big step forward in terms of connecting cultural and government with mainstream administration policy,” Mr. Ivey said in an interview on Friday. The White House declined to describe the position in detail, since Mr. Dale’s appointment has yet to be formally announced. Mr. Ivey, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said he expected 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.” Although there have been staff members assigned to culture under past presidents, they usually served in the first lady’s office, Mr. Ivey said.
Of course, not everyone is terribly comfortable with this choice.

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Talking About the Community Board Meeting on the Indie Theater Scene

This post is cross-posted at the beta Clyde Fitch Report. Do check it out and send comments.

I found this story about the recent Community Board meeting on the indie theater scene to be a good summation of everything I heard about the meeting. And I'm thrilled it happened -- and I applaud Paul Nagle and all the folks at the various community boards for coming together and making it happen. So it is in the spirit of that positive vibe that I will offer a confession: I thought about attending the meeting until the very last minute. In fact, I was having drinks with the head of a very well known OOB theater just around the corner from the meeting. But I didn't go. I didn't go because no one from the press was on the panel -- and it was made pretty clear to me that a press representative was not welcome on the panel or, for that matter, in the audience, or at least not especially. It left me a little miffed.

I understand the reason for the meeting was, as the article states, to "hold a joint forum on how to keep small theaters thriving in New York City," and that the question of press coverage of the OOB scene is not necessarily the key thing to keeping the sector afloat. I fully realize that real estate and funding -- well, those really are the big issues, as they always are, it seems, and as I suppose they always will be. But some of us -- and here I graciously cede much of the credit to Martin and Rochelle Denton -- have been covering the sector for years and in myriad ways. And if you don't get the word out, especially about indie theater -- and yes, dear fellow bloggers, this means you, too -- you don't get butts in seats. We help drive butts in seats. We promote the hell out of the sector. We identify the magical and the mysterious, the major and the minor, the rising and the risen. And one of us -- not me, just one of us -- belongs on that panel. Because the question of coverage is vital. And the community boards should have known it.

Indeed, the organizers of the event, if the article's narrative is to be our guide for this post, understand the role that press and publicity plays. Consider the third paragraph:

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told a crowd of more than 300 theater buffs, community advocates and elected officials gathered at the Players Club in Gramercy Park on Feb. 17 that he realizes the importance of a flourishing theater scene to New York City’s economy. Stringer said politicians in the past have viewed theater as an industry that would sustain itself and always remain in New York City. Tourists don’t come to the city to see its big buildings, he said. “They want to see our art and our talent and they also want to get a peek at us.”

How do they find out about such art and talent, hm? Isn't press one way? Here are some other paragraphs on who spoke at the meeting:

John Clancy, executive director of the League of Independent Theater, said if he had to rate the entire independent theater sector, he’d say companies are currently doing “fair to really, really, really awful.”

Virginia Louloudes, executive director of 350-member organization ART/NY, said that the 250 members who produce in spaces they don’t own are “probably the healthiest.” However, she sees the crisis as an opportunity and “the beginning of a new era.”

Anthony Borelli, Stringer’s director of land use, said that the city and local community boards can and are doing things to help small theaters. An old school building in Harlem, for example, is being converted into affordable housing for artists and their families, because the city was made aware of local priorities and “was lobbied from the very beginning.”

Paul Nagle, director of communications and cultural policy for Lower Manhattan City Councilmember Alan Gerson, said their office has sent legislation to Albany to create a property tax abatement for commercial landlords who rent to nonprofit theaters. Nagle noted it takes surprisingly few people to move a politician and encouraged people to band together.

Isn't it true, in the case of what Nagle said, that coverage of that legislation is key to raising awareness of it? True, the paper Chelsea Now, which published this story, covered the meeting. But coverage should have been widespread.

Here are some videos, available via YouTube, from the event:

I hope there will be more such events and that press people, in particular those who have perenially contributed to the sector, will not be ignored. Simply because doing so is a waste of resources, and really rather a shame.

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Congressman George Miller to Hold Hearings on Fiscal Impact of Arts and Music Industry

This post is cross-posted at the new Clyde Fitch Report, which is in beta. Do check it out and send comments.

Just received an email from Mike Kruger, Online Outreach Specialist for Congressman George Miller (D-CA), who chairs the House Committee on Education and Labor. On Thurs., March 26, Congressman Miller will convene a hearing at 10am on "The Economic and Employment Impact of the Arts and Music Industry." I am currently trying to determine whether I can attend, but I am told that the hearing, which is open to the public, will also be webcast live as well.

I'll post more information as it becomes available to me, including the list of witnesses, which is still to be announced.

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More and More Conflicting Natasha Richardson Reports

This post is cross-posted at the new Clyde Fitch Report, which is in beta. Do check it out and send comments.

First, Time Out New York reported that Natasha Richardson, one of the great actresses of our generation, appeared to have succumb to her injuries as a result of a skiing accident. Now, per The Huffington Post, Time Out has taken down the original post.

Meanwhile, People has posted its own account of Richardson's accident. And Gawker is reporting that Time Out has scrubbed and apologized for its original post and that, in fact, Natasha Richardson is brain dead.

And Gothamist is now reporting on this, too.

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Arts Journalism, Say Arts Journalists, Isn't Dying -- It's a Poltergeist

This post is cross-posted at the new Clyde Fitch Report, which is in beta. Do check it out and send comments.

Tom Jacobs, who wrote for me at Back Stage until a combination of things -- mostly the ill-advised elimination of a freelance budget -- made that an impossibility, has a fascinating story up on called "Will Critique Work for Food." The website is the digital platform of the Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy, and the piece is on arts journalism and what has happened and is still happening to it. But the story isn't about the writing itself so much as those who put their fingers to keyboard and type away:

The situation is most dire for the journalists themselves, who find themselves no longer able to make a living pursuing their passion. But it is also of great concern to arts administrators, who are just now coming to grips with the impending cutoff of one of their strongest lines of communication with the community. After complaining for years of unfair or insensitive reviews, they have come to the realization that the only thing worse than getting criticized is being ignored.

Arts journalism in the United States will surely survive — but in what form? To explore that question, spoke with number of people in the arts, journalism and academia, including Doug McLennan, the founder and editor of That site, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in September, aggregates arts stories from newspapers around the world. It also provides a forum for a variety of bloggers who write with intelligence and style on different disciplines.

A former staff writer with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (the industry's most recent print casualty, which became an online-only product as of March 17) and Seattle Weekly, McLennan also heads the scaled-back National Arts Journalism Program, and in that capacity he has been tracking some disturbing figures. He estimates that in 2005, there were approximately 5,000 staff positions on American newspapers that involved writing about the arts. These include critics, feature writers, reporters who cover cultural news — and the many journalists who juggle all three of those roles.

Today, he estimates that due to layoffs, cutbacks and the closure of several prominent papers (including, another recent victim, Denver's Rocky Mountain News), that number is down to 2,500. That's a 50 percent decline in only four years — a disproportionate loss even for an industry in decline. (Advertising Age recently
that one newspaper job in four has been lost since 1990.) Sean Means, film critic of the Salt Lake City Tribune, is independently keeping a running tally of colleagues who have been laid off over the past three years. The total is up to 49.

This raises the question that I and others have asking for some time: What will happen to arts journalism and what will become of the arts journalists? Will new generations of arts journalists have a shot at making any kind of real living? These are questions that the following answers jointly:

Arts journalism has traditionally performed a variety of functions. It heightens awareness of the arts and the role they play within a community. It provides a consumer guide by critiquing individual exhibits, productions and performances.

It educates readers by analyzing current offerings in terms of their social or historical context. It serves as a watchdog by chronicling how cultural institutions spend public money, and it entertains by introducing readers to artists of all sorts through personality profiles that help demystify the creative process.

It seems likely that, in a post-newspaper society, some of those tasks will be split off and accomplished in different ways. Community awareness is increasingly falling to the arts groups themselves (as we'll discuss later). Reviews and analysis are rapidly migrating to niche Web sites, such as Lawrence A. Johnson's South Florida Classical Review.

"I'm doing this because I think newspapers are on their way out, and something has to take their place," Johnson explains. "The music deserves a certain sounding board. In cities where they don't have a regular critic, mediocrity tends to be the rule."

A former music critic for the Miami Herald, Johnson launched the site last June, "during that awkward period between the announcement of layoffs and the day I got the official word I was getting the heave-ho." On his site, he does pretty much everything he used to do for the Herald, only with no restrictions on length. He then sells some of his reviews back to the Herald and other area papers at a freelance rate.

"I think that's the future," he says. "I think you're going to see more sites like this that serve as the origination point of the coverage."

So, in other words, there will still be arts journalism, but people won't make a living at it, most likely. (I also happen to believe that the consumer will be somewhat confused in terms of who to believe, who to listen to, who to read and what criticism to ingest more seriously than others. This is great if the goal, say, here in New York is to diminish the all-powerful New York Times, but that, my friends, has already occurred.) This is how Johnson does it:
After some internal debate, Johnson decided to make his site a for-profit operation; he decided whatever funds he could get from foundations wouldn't be worth the headache of completing grant applications. His income is from sales back to newspapers and banner ads on his site, which so far have been purchased primarily by smaller and (to his mind) more forward-thinking music organizations.

His site also includes contributions from a couple of colleagues around the state; he doesn't pay them at the moment, but plans to do so eventually. "My overhead is relatively low," he notes. "I don't have levels and levels of editors. I just need a little slice of advertising to keep it going. I live pretty frugally."

That's admirable, if sad, if inspiring. Jacobs also talks to my friend and colleague, Martin Denton:
Johnson need only look north to find a similar site that has been self-sustaining for more than a decade. Martin Denton started in 1996 as a hobby. He quit his day job and turned it into a full-time endeavor in 1999.

Last year he had an impressive 3.4 million visitors — many of which, he admits, were merely looking for a theater's address or checking the time their show began. But he also has a "core readership" of several hundred thousand people who appreciate the fact his site reviews virtually every show in town — even those in small, out-of-the-way venues.

It's a tiny operation: Denton runs it out of his home and his mother oversees the business side. Unlike Johnson, he opted to file for nonprofit status, which gives him access to grant money. About one-third of his $100,000 annual budget comes from government sources (both the state and city of New York contribute).

He also sells banner ads, and like Johnson, he reports no problems with advertisers demanding a positive review as a quid pro quo. "They're paying for a certain number of eyeballs on the ad," he says. "If they get that, they don't care what our review says."

Those reviews are written by theater professionals who do not get paid for their work. Denton admits that keeping the quality high with volunteer labor is a challenge, but he has managed to avoid the potential pitfalls of peer-to-peer criticism, such as reviews tinged by personal or professional grudges. "Everybody's grown up," he insists. "They understand constructive criticism is valuable."

Of course, constructive criticism is always valuable. The whole history of 20th century theatre criticism is filled with stories along the lines of Sylvia Miles dumping a plate of spaghetti on top of John Simon's head as opposed to the way Elliot Norton helped Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein turn a mediocre musical called Away We Go into one far more memorable called Oklahoma!

But let's remember, the initial pretext for Jacobs' article was not whether criticism as an organism would survive, or survive insofar as superlative writing quality goes, but whether the situation for arts journalist may, in the final analysis, be anything but -- to reuse Jacobs' term -- "dire." And here's the problem: Denton may even offer superior criticism on his site, and his business model may be predicated entirely on volunteer reviewing, but isn't it volunteer reviewing that devalues the very idea of the arts journalist? In simplest terms, by not paying the arts journalist, does the arts journalist have intrinsic -- by that I mean measurable -- value? What is wrong with making a living as an arts journalist? What's so grand, so admirable, so pride-inducing, so inexhaustibly unassailable, about not paying arts journalists? This doesn't just apply to Denton's site -- far from it. Lots of bloggers out there write for nothing. More and more, let's of journalists that still have staff positions at established publications are being asked to do more and more, like blogging, for no additional compensation. And in terms of those who aren't with a staff position at a major publication, let's not debate what does and does constitute an arts journalist, for I believe that if you're writing about the arts and you're having what you write about the arts published and consumers are reading and consuming that coverage, you're an arts journalist. Period. (Yes, that includes bloggers.) After all:
...As Denton notes, ["an aura of authoritativeness"] works well if you're buying a computer component, but it's not all that helpful when it comes to evaluating a CD or theatrical production. For that kind of advice, you want someone with knowledge and experience who can judge a work of art thoughtfully and write about it in an interesting way — in other words, a critic.

I just feel that if "you want someone with knowledge and experience who can judge a work of art thoughtfully and write about it in an interesting way," such knowledge and experience ought to have a monetary value. Only in something like arts journalism would it be assumed ok to pay not one dime for such skills.

Meanwhile, Jacobs goes to a great source for yet another perspective: Sasha Anawalt, director of the Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program at the University of Southern California:
Anawalt also can imagine the day when major arts organizations, or perhaps consortia of such groups, may hire established arts journalists and give them a prominent online forum. After all, many companies stepped up their education component when arts-appreciation courses were dropped from school-district curricula. Similarly, they may decide that supporting arts journalism is well worth the relatively small expense.

"I don't think arts organizations should pay critics to review their wares, but I'm old school — the conflict of interest stops me dead," says Seattle Post-Intelligencer art critic Regina Hackett, who has announced plans to write a blog for "But a group of arts organizations in a city can support the right kind of arts blogger or arts news site."

But even a high-quality, well-read Web site has a limited reach. Newspapers, at least in their heyday, were read by nearly every member of a given community (or at least everyone with a certain level of income and education). Few may have devoured the review of the new exhibit at the art museum, but casual readers very likely glanced at the photos and received — at least subliminally — the impression that something interesting was going on there.

"Web sites tend to be very focused," notes Gil Cates, managing director of the Geffen Playhouse in West Los Angeles (and producer of the annual Academy Awards broadcast). "It's that general audience that is the hardest to reach. I want to attract the crowd that looks at a newspaper on a Saturday and asks, 'What do you want to do tonight?'

"The audience has to know about what's going on in the theater in order to decide whether they are going to come," he reasons. "It's true there is the Internet, including things like Facebook. But the majority of theatergoers tend to be over 40, and they're not as new-media-inclined as the younger generation. They get most of their information from television, radio and newspapers. So when you start cutting
people who write about what we do, it's serious."

That last line is very powerful, you know. Because the situation really is serious. And websites have a fast-growing, but still (for now) limited, reach. It's a generational thing, a consumer-behavior thing, and I think arts organizations have a responsibility to not stand on the sidelines in this moment, as some (not those cited in the article) seem to be doing. Truthfully, I wouldn't trust a nonprofit arts group, "or perhaps consortia of such groups," to "hire established arts journalists and give them a prominent online forum." It wouldn't be in their interest to allow arts journalists to truly write freely. My God, look at all the nonprofit institutional theaters in New York getting on the bandwagon of inviting bloggers to super-early previews of their shows. They're banking on the idea that those bloggers will create buzz, which is their motivation for calling these invitations a "marketing initiative." These groups do not have the balls or the brains to actually consider these bloggers what they are -- legitimate critics, real honest-to-God critics and arts journalists; people who in any other time, in any other era, would have had real job at real publications and would have made real salaries -- and thus invite them to critics' performances. No, what they've done is create a Jim Crow era for arts journalism. That, too, devalues arts journalists and arts journalism.

Smartly, Jacobs ends his story with some hope:
"It's an incredibly exciting time to be an arts journalist. We're in a sort of Wild West of invention. I think what comes out eventually will be far superior to what we have had."

But will an economic model be found to support all this innovation? McLennan — who recently hired two assistants to help him edit — is an optimist. His operation makes a decent profit thanks in part to subscribers who pay him to have information get e-mailed directly to their inbox. It's the same stuff they can find on his Web site, but they're willing to pay for the convenience of direct delivery.

McLennan compares standalone niche Web sites to small literary magazines, which seldom make money and usually fold when their founder burns out. "It's very hard selling an ad on a blog that gets 1,000 hits a day," he admits. "But if you band together with 10 other blogs — say a theater blog bands together with a music blog and a visual arts blog — your universe of potential advertisers grows enormously.

"Historically it has been true that if you could put together an audience for something that you did, there was a way to make money at it. I refuse to believe the laws of human nature are going to be suspended because of the Internet."

Of course, forging a career without the safety net provided by a large employer is not for the timid. To pursue their calling, arts journalists will need to be both dedicated and imaginative. In other words, their lives will resemble those of another group of highly committed, risk-taking professionals ... artists.

And I agree: the laws of human nature will not be suspended because of the Web. Indeed, the business model that allowed arts journalists to make a living have alreadybeen suspended, hence the move toward entrepreneurial models. The question is how to reinvent the form without devaluing not just the work, again, but the idea of simply making a living. Let's hope the reinvention is here sooner, not later.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Dubai Cracks Public Morality Whip; Will NYU President John Sexton Roll Over?

With questions still being raised -- and unaddressed -- regarding fiduciary shenanigans on the part of NYU President John Sexton as the construction of the school's Dubai campus continues, it's interesting to note some news.

According to this story published by the Daily Star in Lebanon:

Playing loud music, dancing, nudity, kissing and holding hands in public is considered inappropriate behavior under new guidelines laid down by the authorities of Dubai, a report said Saturday. Arabic-language daily Al-Emarat al-Youm said the Dubai Executive Council had urged residents of the city - which in days past has been termed "The Beirut of the Persian Gulf" - where foreigners make up more than 80 percent of the population, to respect the customs of the Muslim majority country and avoid inappropriate behavior.

The rules, which apply to all public places, include a ban on all forms of nudity, playing music loudly and dancing, exchange of kisses between men and women - and even on unmarried couples holding hands.

Any breach of the guidelines, by nationals or expatriates, carries a possible prison penalty, the paper said.

It's their nation, of course -- they can have whatever codes they wish to have. But since the UAE is supposedly paying for NYU's Dubai campus (though Sexton refuses to acknowledge any of the directions that money is going in, including his own pocket), the question is whether Sexton will continue to be the UAE's lapdog bitch if these rules, which aren't unspeakable (holding hands in public is a Western value, public sex is not), are actually a precursor to something scarier. Given how the man has lied to the Greenwich Village community repeatedly regarding preservation issues, I think we already have a good idea as to where he sticks his moral compass.

In other news, NYU's school daily, the Washington Square News, reports that George Mason University is terminating its UAE campus for various reasons, almost all economic.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Impending Unbranding of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand?

All posts are cross-posted to the beta version of the new Clyde Fitch Report. I'd love any thoughts on the new site -- bearing in mind we're still in beta, resolving kinks, bugs, design, functionality, etc.

I cannot tell you how many emails I get every day from organizations like, imploring me to add my name to this or that cause. Many of them I support, many of them I don't, but I feel I receive entirely too many of these things, and no matter where one sits on the political/philosophical spectrum, at a certain point there's got to be the risk of diminishing returns.

Sometimes I get one of these emails and I realize that there is something far more significant going on in the background; that while I may be asked on the surface to lend my support to a cause, what's really happening is that a broader message, a broader agenda, may be moving into motion. I felt this way the other day when I got such an email regarding my new senator here in New York, Kirsten Gillibrand.

The subject of the email is the housing crisis and President Obama's plan to fix it. The purpose of my post, however, is not to take a position on his plan quite yet (though it's much more intelligent than anything the Party of No has put forth) but to wonder why Gillibrand is the subject of targeting. She was, after all, sworn in to succeed Hilary Clinton just 47 days ago.

Personally, I think Gillibrand's uber-centrist positions are making her a target of the left and the right. I think the right sees a chance, albeit a slim one, to take her down in a death-by-a-zillion-cuts strategy, or at least soften her up for a hard time in 2010 if she is the nominee and/or if the GOP can come up with a candidate who could be her equal, which is where they're stalled at the moment. But I think the left is very divided about her: liberals are nauseated by Gillibrand's 100% NRA rating and worried, if not quite at the level of nauseated, by the senator's, um, let's say, evolving stance on gay rights. She's basically too centrist for New York, some say, and this may be about to cause her some problems.

Unless, that is, Gillibrand capitulates while also figuring out how to explain shifting so much to the left without leaving her vulnerable to charges of flipping and flopping. So this brings me back to this email from, which clearly, I think, sends a shot right over Gillibrand's bow to hurry up and figure it out. That, in other words, she'd better vivaciously toe the Obama line or else face reelection problems next year. Now, party discipline is a Republican virtue, so efforts to instill it in the famously fractious Democrats strikes me as a net positive. But let's acknowledge that this may be what is going on here. And now, the text of the email:

Dear MoveOn member,

Next week, the Senate will begin work on an important part of President Obama's plan to address the housing crisis, and your senator's vote will be key.

The bill makes a crucial change to bankruptcy law, empowering judges to help homeowners reduce their mortgages instead of losing their homes. Judges already have the ability to do this with vacation homes, cars, even yachts. But they can't take this commonsense step with primary homes.

The bill passed the House last week, but faced opposition from some Democrats. The fight in the Senate is going to be even tougher. Sen. Gillibrand needs to hear from you today so she knows constituents are counting on her to stand with homeowners, not big banks.

Can you call Sen. Gillibrand right now? Tell her: "Please pass the foreclosure bankruptcy reform that the House just passed. Stand with homeowners, not with big banks."

Here's where to call:
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Phone: 202-224-4451

Then, please report your call by clicking here:

President Obama offered a comprehensive plan to ease the housing crisis. His plan helps families refinance their mortgages to take advantage of low rates, and gives qualifying homeowners relief through loan modifications. In all, the plan is expected to help up to 9 million families stay in their homes.

Most of the plan is already being implemented, but the key provision in question needs congressional approval. By allowing bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages on primary residences, this bill provides a strong incentive for banks to work with homeowners before foreclosing.

But the mortgage industry is fighting the bill tooth and nail—they convinced 24 Democrats in the House to vote against the bill—because they don't want to take any responsibility for their role in the housing crisis. We can't afford to lose even a few votes in the Senate, and that means letting Sen. Gillibrand know now that you expect her to put her constituents ahead of the banks.

Can you call Sen. Gillibrand now and tell hers to stand with homeowners and to pass foreclosure bankruptcy reform?

1. "Bankruptcy law may be modified," The Chicago Tribune, February 25, 2009

2. "Obama: Housing plan could help millions," The Hill, February 18, 2009

3. "Bankruptcy law may be modified," The Chicago Tribune, February 25, 2009

4. "Final Vote Results for Roll Call 104," The Clerk of the House of Representatives, March 5, 2009
Now, here's the bottom line: has every right to advocate whatever position it wishes. But it seems to me there's something about the tone of this email that implied a threat to the new Senator. Welcome to the big leagues, indeed.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

From the Blogroll XI

Starting today, all posts are being cross-posted to the beta version of the new Clyde Fitch Report. I'd love any thoughts on the new site -- bearing in mind we're still in beta, resolving kinks, bugs, design, functionality, etc.

At Adam Szymkowicz's blog, Adam Szymkowicz takes the Dentyne playwriting contest idea and smacks it around. And I have to say, I've been surprised by the amount of hostility in the theatrosphere toward this effort. When I first reported it, I thought, Gee, you know, that's weird, but the more I read about the upset in the playwriting community about it, the more I wonder whether the whole thing is just a terrible idea -- or if Manhattan Theatre Club has really shown its true, anti-indie theater colors by partnering with Dentyne on it.

At Adaumbelle's Quest, Adam Rothenberg asks Broadway actor Mark Price everything you've always wanted to know (about Mark Price and otherwise) but were far too terrified to even begin to contemplate.

At the Arts Marketing blog, Chad M. Bowman tackles the question of theaters that advertise and the problem of what to do as fewer and fewer traditional media publications allocate space and time and resources toward covering the work that major theaters -- such as LORT theaters in particular -- do. What he writes is interesting:

This past Friday, I was on a conference call with several marketing and PR directors from various LORT (League of Resident Theaters) theaters. The purpose of the call was to plan discussion topics for the upcoming LORT conference in Los Angeles. We all agreed that the disappearing arts coverage in local and national press is one of the top issues currently facing non-profit arts organizations, and we recognize that the shrinking coverage has forced arts organizations into becoming content providers themselves. As we make the shift from pitching interesting stories for reporters to cover to covering them ourselves through various media channels (YouTube, Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, Flickr, BlipTv, etc), I believe it is also important to fight for the remaining arts reporters and critics.

We all know that the newspaper industry is in a world of hurt right now. The Rocky Mountain News, one of Denver's largest newspapers, has already bit the dust, and it looks very likely that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer will do the same. The Chicago-based Tribune Company has filed for bankruptcy, and the New York Times doesn't look so hot either. Locally in DC metro area, we have seen the Baltimore Examiner go out of business and rumor on the street is that the Washington Post lost $40 million last year, however it owns Kaplan which made $50 million so they can continue to operate in the red, at least for awhile.

With all of this, you can imagine that the pressure is high to cut costs, and why not cut arts coverage? We are perceived by most not to be as valuable as other industries (I am thinking of the huge debate over the $50 million stimulus money for the NEA in the $800+ billion stimulus package, and how much controversy there was over that). So that is where we must step in. We need to make it clear that if a media source cuts arts coverage it will do so at the cost of advertising dollars.

But here's my concern: beyond vowing to "fight for the remaining arts reporters and critics" by threatening to withhold advertising dollars," Bauman doesn't articulate how theaters ought to pressure traditional media to halt "shrinking coverage." True, Bauman writes, "The arts are an economic engine....a source of revenue, and it is about time that we are taken seriously." But it seems to me that if arts-driven advertising dollars were so life-sustaining for print publications, they wouldn't be in the dire position they're in. It has been a fact in New York for as long as I can remember that theater advertising in the New York Times, for example, is the most expensive in that paper. Clearly, since the Times is scrambling to not go under, arts-driven advertising dollars will not be enough to make the difference -- to stop declining coverage.

That said -- and in the interest of being balanced about this -- here's what Bauman writes about the scene in DC and how Arena, and Bauman in particular, have put some teeth in the threat:

[Fighting for the remaining arts reporters and critics] has been successful in the Washington metropolitan area. Just recently, a media source was going to cut a major source of arts coverage, going so far as to tell the writer that within weeks, she would be released. The League of Washington Theatres along with the management of several of the area's largest arts organizations sent a letter to the company outlining the likely economic consequences of the decision. Soon thereafter, the decision was reversed. Since the company changed its mind, and continued to support arts coverage, I have vowed to increase the amount of advertising I am spending with them this year, and am proud that they continue to be a great source of information on the local arts scene.

As I advocate to reduce advertising expenditures with companies that eliminate arts coverage, I would encourage you to consider increasing your advertising buys for companies that show an increased dedication to the arts. Locally, Arena Stage hasn't traditionally supported the DC Examiner (a local print publication) or (a local theater website). However, both have recently made efforts to increase their arts coverage, the former by printing a theater and museum guide and the latter by doing significant website improvements. Arena Stage now supports them both, and I plan to continue to do so.

That's excellent, and I'm glad Bauman is willing, as I say, to put some muscle in his threat. It's essential that companies like Arena set an example and understand their economic impact and continue, whenever and wherever possible, to make the case. Many theaters are too terrified to go and sit in a publisher's office or call an editor, fearing they'll damage the coverage they'll get for their shows. So doing all this is brave.

But why is Bauman, who is communications director for Arena Stage, seemingly blithe about the fact that most theaters do not have Arena's fiscal resources -- they can't afford to advertise even if they wanted to. (Remember, Arena will likely get some piece of $50 million NEA boost as part of the stimulus package, but non-NEA-vetted venues will get zip.) Doesn't he realize that if the rates for advertising were more reasonable for more theaters, more of them might advertise?

Bauman may think Arena is pioneering alternative ways of promoting the message through the aforementioned media channels, but the fact is that smaller theaters have long been doing this because they haven't the luxury Arena has of even thinking about advertising. So while I respect Bauman's willingness to get all George Foreman on behalf of arts journalists, he might want to be fair and acknowledge the extraordinary economic advantages Arena has in the first place.

Now back to From the Blogroll...

At the Critical Condition, Mark Blankenship finally fesses up to his true feelings about Kelly Clarkson. Little does he know how very conflicted she is about him. Later, Mark does off about this week's American Idol adventure, leading the reader to imagine that Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell are much happier with their own.

At CultureBot, Ian Belton confirms that Mark Russell, the founding and now former artistic director of P.S. 122, is not, to his Ian's word, a wang. (But is he a chung?) And Andy Horwitz has five questions for Sheila Callaghan. Andy also offers a modest proposal for arts in America. Read it!

At Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals, Chris Caggiano wonders if the Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls will have legs. Or if they'll be whacked.

At Extra Criticum, Jeremy Dobrish writes about writing with another writer...right?

At the Hub Review, Thomas Garvey joins the is-it-really-Shakespeare? portrait scrum.

At In the Wings, Jonathan Jovel reports on Scott Walters' argument that "80% of the theatre-going population is made up of the top 15% of America’s economic class." Of course, it would be even more powerful to realize that you could say that about all the arts in the United States, but that's another story.

At Interchanging Idioms, Chip Michael talks about all the different ways various arts leaders and journalists are suggesting that classical music can be saved. Worth reading because the ideas are applicable to more than just that genre.

At the Producer's Perspective, Ken Davenport compares the recession in Hollywood to the recession on Broadway. Bottom line: spin.

At Lou Harry's A&E, Lou Harry offers coverage of the Indiana Coalition for the Arts' efforts in the capital of the Hoosier state.

At Moxie the Maven, Moxie continues her rampage against the Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls, or so it sort of seems. Frankly, girlfriend needs to just chill and start instituting awful puns like "Children of a Loesser God." More to the point, the post is about how the marketing folks for G&D invited Moxie to see the show, then said there wasn't availability, and back and forth and back and forth, and yet, Moxie reports, empty seats are simply epidemic in the mezzanine of the Nederlander Theatre. Hmmm...

At Off-Off-Blogway, Ludlow Lad asks nine questions of Caden Manson of Big Art Group. Some great answers, including the perennial number 7.

At On Chicago Theatre, Zev N. Valancy writes about the Neo-Futurists Strange Interlude. My favorite quote: "The play is, to put it simply, insane. The nine acts of the wildly over the top plot covers 25 years in the life on Nina Leeds and the three men who love her. There's abortion, atheism, and adultery, and that's just the letter a. That's not even taking into account the lengthy asides to the audience, the huge swaths of intensely purple prose, the lengthy, prescriptive stage directions, and the general air of Freudian weirdness. It is almost never produced anymore, and not just because of length--I honestly think that modern audiences would not accept it produced straighforwardly onstage." Good thing he didn't see Mourning Becomes Electra here in Gotham.

At Parabasis, Isaac Butler declares himself a "Democratic Socialist." Glad he has the means to feel that way. He also liberally goes off about comment craziness on his blog.

At the Stage blog of the Guardian, the question of whether video games will be the salvation of the theater comes up yet again. A little cross-posting with Ken Davenport, hm?

At Steve On Broadway, Steve really bums me: he's not going to post daily or regularly anymore. I frankly wish he'd reconsider. His explanation is simple and moving and admirable and, wish his permission, I wish to reprint part of it here:

Alongside travel, history, politics and music, live theatre has been one my greatest passions since my formative years. I've been extremely fortunate to have seen some of the greatest shows of our time, along with some of the biggest and brightest stars of the stage.

Even more fortunate was my opportunity to share this most unique and entertaining of communal experience withsoverymanyofyou, myfellowenthusiasts (and truly dear friends). For that, I'm all the richer.

While I've been indisposed over the past week, I've had a chance to reflect on how blogging about live theatre has substantially detracted from my passion for this beloved art form. In my mad dash in trying to see everything (spending my own hard-earned dollars to boot), all the while reviewing each and every show, I've become much more critical of the form. I have sacrificed the opportunity to judiciously select what I'd most like to see. A consequence has been that I no longer just sit back, relax and enjoy each production for the entertainment that it is.

On top of that, I write all day in my professional life, which is squarely outside of the realm of theatre. When you write for a living, oftentimes the last thing you want to do is write on your own time, particularly when your inherent instinct is to live life to its fullest. As a good friend once told me, "If you're baking pies all day, who wants to come home and bake one?"

Unlike all too many others, including a disturbing number of family and friends, I'm extremely fortunate and blessed to have the opportunity to continue working in this most difficult of economies. I'm resolved to be better than ever, not only professionally, but especially in my relationships with my loved ones. They're what matter more than anything else to me.

The death this past week of Horton Foote -- one of America's great playwrights, whose tender works not only centered on family, but quite often featured his own talented daughter Hallie -- had me further pondering the vital role my loved ones play in my life, as well as the cost of writing Steve On Broadway (SOB) at their expense.

So it's after much contemplation that I suspend regular, let alone daily, postings here. Having said that, if there's a theatre headline or personal experience worth writing about, rest assured I'll still be posting them. As far as the shows I see, I may attempt to write one or two lines about my overall experience in an easy-to-read nutshell, along with whether or not I actually enjoyed the performances. But that my friends will be about all.

Godspeed, Steve. Let's go on...

At Theatre Ideas, Scott Walters explodes with, well, Ideas. For example, he talks down, and perhaps with good reason, the "Wal-Marting of the American Theatre," though after reading his post I must confess I don't entirely understand quite what he means. He begins the post with a long excerpt from Thomas Friedman's book The World Is Flat, and then he burrows in:

I was reminded of Friedman's chillingly gee-whiz paragraph when I was listening to Beth Leavel's keynote speech (or, as Tom Loughlin calls it, "performance") at the Southeastern Theatre Conference (SETC) last Friday, specifically when she responded to a question about Chicago with the following corrective: "All I know is that if I want to work in Chicago, I have to be in New York; if I want to work in Seattle, which is a great theatre town, I have to be in New York; if I want to work in my home town of Raleigh, I have to be in New York."

It occurred to me, as I watched a sea of youthful heads register her implicit advice about what their career destination should be, that New York City is the Bentonville of the theatre world. As in Friedman's description above [see Walters' post for this], theatre educators across America, from high school teachers to undergraduate departments to grad schools, represent the "thousands of different suppliers" who ship their "products" (i.e., their students) from all parts of the nation to New York where they feed the theatrical conveyor belt "like streams into a powerful river." The business of theatre educators is to export a "quality product" that will be accepted by New York headquarters. Once there, if the product is "lucky," it is plucked from the big conveyor belt and shipped to the specific theatre that needs that particular product, wherever those theatres are. Once that product is plucked and successfully consumed at its final destination, the call is communicated back to the student's originating theatre department to create another one like him or her, and as Friedman says "the whole cycle will start anew." Advertisements will appear in American Theatre Magazine crowing "our graduates work," with a picture of the successful product prominently displayed as proof. If we did it once, the ad implies, we can do it again.

The effect of the Wal-Mart supply chain on commerce is well-documented: local businesses are destroyed, money is taken out of the local economy to flow back to headquarters, wages are depressed, and unique cultural products are replaced by homogeneous national brands. Go to any Wal-Mart in America and you will find basically the same products displayed in the same way and at the same low price. The Wal-Marted theatre scene is no different.

Instead of local arts organizations run by and staffed by artists whose lives are made within a specific community and whose artistic vision is informed by that community, Wal-Mart Regional Theatre and Touring House imports generic artists from NYC to do generic plays for a short run after which they depart never to be seen again, taking the community's money with them. This is the system being celebrated by Beth Leavel and every theatre instructor who dazzles their young charges with visions of Tony Awards.

Wal-Mart isn't good for America, nor is Wal-Mart Theatre. And like the business leaders and legislators who promote Wal-Mart as an economic engine bringing jobs to depressed areas despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, theatre artists and educators who continue to promote this system are promoting a lie.

Whoa! OK, I bought into a great deal of that until the end -- the sucker punch. The primacy, or supposed primacy, of New York theater isn't a lie. That's facile anti-New York hogwash -- and I say that not as a native New Yorker but because one can't glibly blame New York for branding itself successfully as the nation's theater capital since the time of Thomas Jefferson. (For a great book on this, read Heather Nathans' Early American Theatre from the Revolution to Thomas Jefferson: Into the Hands of the People.) When there was little or no theater outside of the East Coast's major cities, dozens and dozens of stock companies went to the provinces, as it were, to bring theater to those who had none. The whole story of the Syndicate, which finally organized "the road" -- or the story of David Belasco's journey to New York from San Francisco, or Mrs. Fiske's or the Lunts' endless, tireless trooping across the nation -- is a testament to how much theater in non-New York areas once meant to the popularization of the theater during the early parts of our cultural history.

What we have now, however, is a historic turning point. The maturation of the nonprofit theater movement now allows for the worthy idea that non-New York communities can have significant, flourishing arts communities -- actually, let's not limit our subject to theater -- of their own. Can you have a strong, powerful League of Chicago Theatres if the Wal-Marting of the American theater really exists -- if it's all solely about perpetuating New York's dominance? Could you have theater awards in Boston, DC, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Denver if those awards, year by year, however incrementally, did not bring value to the work being done in those communities and, indeed, to those communities themselves? Isn't the issue really one of the old inferiority complex -- the "Oh, we're Denver -- we're not New York." Well, who, precisely, is to blame for that? New York? Isn't it more appropriate to blame teachers in non-New York communities who wish they had made it big in New York? Or who didn't have the nuts in the first place to make it in New York? So what if New York actively perpetuates the allure of making it big in the Big Apple? That's good marketing. If you resent it, and if you want local arts organizations to be "run by and staffed by artists whose lives are made within a specific community and whose artistic vision is informed by that community," then for God's sake, start working on how to brand those communities to compete with the ever-deified New York!

It seems to me that those people who romanticize New York, worship New York, make beatific our dear Broadway, need some education. That's true. But you can't blame New York for the way non-New York theatre people see New York. The Wal-Marting of the American theater, to the degree it exists, is enabled and celebrated at home.

And look -- one can argue that when an Atlanta theater mounts a play and the play is picked up for New York, that's the Wal-Martization of the American theater, too. Ditto if you have an actor trained outside of New York who then comes to New York and makes it big, Beth Leavel-style. But when a play is mounted successfully in New York and regional houses pick it up, that brings income -- tangible, substantive success -- to playwrights. If you take someone like Steven Dietz, whose plays are always done in Seattle and who lives in Seattle and Austin, I believe -- well, his situation really gives the lie to what Walters calls a lie, for Dietz proves that New York need not always be the center of the Dionysian universe. This lends credence to Mike Daisey's argument that there needs to be far more encouraging of non-New York arts communities to celebrate their own within their own, if you will, and that the temptation to indulge in the hagiography of New York must be resisted -- again, at home. New York isn't to blame for great branding -- non-New York communities are responsible for uncompetitive branding.

One of my last Back Stage stories was an in-depth look at the theater scene in DC. Scores and scores of actors work there -- making a living! -- and for them, it's not all about getting to New York, though they wouldn't turn down the opportunity. I wonder how Walters' argument plays out in terms of film: Is the idea that you'd just make films in and about your local community and never aspire to Hollywood?

So, Beth Leavel wanted to be in New York, on Broadway -- bravo for her! Maybe the issue is the SETC folks didn't ask Naomi Jacobson of the DC theatre scene to give a speech. Maybe they will.

And now, the final entry in this week's From the Blogroll...

At Good/What Blows in New York Theatre, Rocco also weighs in on the William Shakespeare portrait controversy, addressing the nonsensical idea that a single portrait can tell us whether the Bard was a butt-loving gay bard.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Will Obama Let the Gays Marry? Heads or Tails He Loses, Says Times

Well, it’s pretty obvious that the New York Times is enjoying bringing the gay marriage issue to the political front-burner on Day 51 of President Obama’s already-exhausting term. You know, there have been some moments since the president’s inauguration that I’ve been sure the United States was undergoing some kind of political Groundhog Day back to the Clinton years, except this time the hot topic isn’t gays in the military, which was and still remains a slam-dunk issue as far as I’m concerned. (Here’s a great piece from the Huffington Post, by the way, on how Argentina and Israel, among other countries, are more intellectually and morally enlightened than America on this issue.) Frankly, anyone who doesn’t understand why “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a horrid rule should have the word “homophobe” tattooed on their face and start acting like Mike Tyson on a really bad day. Yes, I realize that’s redundant.

Anyway, in the Times’ story today, the situation is really spelled out that awaits the president:

Just seven weeks into office, President Obama is being forced to confront one of the most sensitive social and political issues of the day: whether the government must provide health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

In separate, strongly worded orders, two judges of the federal appeals court in California said that employees of their court were entitled to health benefits for their same-sex partners under the program that insures millions of federal workers.

But the federal Office of Personnel Management has instructed insurers not to provide the benefits ordered by the judges, citing a 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama said he would “fight hard” for the rights of gay couples. As a senator, he sponsored legislation that would have provided health benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

Now, Mr. Obama is in a tough spot. If he supports the personnel office on denying benefits to the San Francisco court employees, he risks agitating liberal groups that helped him win election. If he supports the judges and challenges the marriage act, he risks alienating Republicans with whom he is seeking to work on economic, health care and numerous other matters.

But here’s the thing: Didn’t Obama alienate Republicans by becoming the duly elected president of the United States? I mean, isn’t it true that unless he’s a gun-toting, NRA-card-carrying, welfare-eliminating, Medicare-slashing, tax-destroying, anti-choice homophobe he’d be on their target list, their enemies list, no matter what? Not that I think Michael Steele is savviest lion in the lair, but when the guy deviates from Republican orthodoxy on the abortion issue, the party establishmentarians start getting hysterical, circling like vultures. Not a way to, um, broaden the big tent, methinks.

No, the Party of No really has been clear: They want Barack Obama to fail. They’ll even take down the United States of America economically or any other way to make their point. So, really, how much risk is there for him on gay issues? It’s not as if a small gulf separates the Democrats from the Republicans on this, right? It’s not as if there’s room for any kind of manuvering. And wouldn’t it be better to deal with this issue earlier in his term?

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New Models: The Low-Profit Limited Liability Company

Woke up this morning to read and digest a new and thought-provoking contribution to the going-around-in-circles "new models" discussion. If you check out Andrew Taylor's The Artful Manager, his newest post, "Somewhere Between Profit and Nonprofit" explores the idea of a Low-Profit Limited Liability Company, commonly abbreviated as L3C. I've included the salient paragraphs of Taylor's post because I think they ought to provoke some discussion in the theatrosphere. The one question I have, meanwhile, concerns corporate tax liability. Is there any? Can you form one in a state that allows one but de facto operate it in another? Could states use the ability to create L3Cs as a way to compete against each other for capital investment, like with tax-subsidies for film production? Are there any statistics on how many of these have been formed nationally and how they're doing?

Anyway, the salient graphs (I've included all the hyperlinks from the original post):

....When forming a business, individuals and groups can select from many forms -- S Corporation, C Corporation, LLC, LLP, Sole Proprietorship, and such -- depending on the nature of the work they have in mind. The 501c3 nonprofit is a particular flavor of the Non-stock corporate form, designed to assist enterprises with a social or public purpose that can't sustain their operations or capital needs through traditional markets (so philanthropy and volunteerism step in).

Unlike the for-profit world, which has a full palette of options for corporate form, social enterprises have had rather few. The 501c3 is required by most donors, government granting agencies, and foundations for gifts and grants. But it carries a cost, as well -- it's hard to manage, govern, and sustain, its awkward for enterprises that plan a profit (even a small one), and it tends to be permanent even when permanence isn't required.

So, in response, the L3C is intended to look and act like a small business (its parent form, the Limited Liability Company, is a darling of entrepreneurs), but also allow for social investment from a range of foundations and donors. Donations to an L3C are not tax-deductible for the donor, nor will they qualify for traditional grants and government subsidy. But they could become vehicles for attracting Program Related Investments (PRI), which foundations use to encourage activity in blighted communities or industries.

The L3C continues to pop up as an option for the beleagered newspaper industry, for example, where the traditional profit engines have vanished, but public interest in a vibrant city newspaper remains....
Actually, if I had any kind of brain, I'd have looked down toward the end of the post, where there is a link to a blog that is new to me, Gene Takagi's Nonprofit Law Blog. In a long post about L3C's, Takagi points to the way this business model could enable the newspaper industry to not totally go the way of the dodo and the much-missed passenger pigeon:
....Sally Duros reported in the Huffington Post (Feb. 9, and Feb 26, 2009), newspapers are dealing with a current lack of capital caused by investors turning “news-gathering into Wall Street product.” While certain papers still make money, "The problem is it cannot make enough profit for all the games normal for-profits get involved in." (Lang commenting on the Peoria Newspaper Guild). Historically, newspapers are not considered nonprofits. However, the Program-Related Investment Promotion Act, if passed, would expand charitable purposes to include newspapers. In Illinois alone, under the 5% payout required by foundations, Illinois foundations invest $17M each year in programs serving a social purpose out of their $535 combined assets. The L3C scenario would thus provide an opportunity for newspapers to make “enough” money. Lang stated, "What we are looking at is the newspaper as a self-sufficient entity. It will not be a high profit entity." Unlike other current options, the L3C is sustainable, allowing newspapers to tap into the $17M available for PRIs while the L3C’s social purpose business model continues to realign newspapers with their community service mission. The Communications Workers of America and other reporters have raised similar discussions for other struggling newspapers, for example, in Seattle and Minnesota.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

What You Talkin' About, Willis Tower?

Well, it won't be called the Sears Tower anymore, according to this story.

It'll be called the Willis Tower.

Gary Coleman must be crushed.

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Metropolitan Museum Slashing Staff

Sad stuff. Just received this press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

As part of an ongoing, and increasingly challenging, effort to maintain budgetary equilibrium in this worsening national economic climate -- particularly for the retail sector -- The Metropolitan Museum of Art has announced that it must pare its merchandising work force by 74 positions, effective immediately. These staff reductions represent 27% of its full-time, and 9% of its part-time retail positions, and are in addition to the 53 positions eliminated in recent months through the closings of eight satellite Museum stores around the country. The decision acknowledges significant recent downturns in its merchandising sales, but also represents an effort to restructure this department so it remains competitive in the future and can continue to support museum programs.

At the same time, the Museum also anticipates the additional need to reduce the rest of its full- and part-time work force by approximately 10% in all other areas of its operations before the beginning of its next fiscal year July 1. Because The Metropolitan is so large and complex an organization, whose staff possess skill sets crucial to maintaining its buildings and collections successfully, such a contraction requires a deliberate and delicate process, which Museum management, while acknowledging the urgent need for reductions, is committed to undertaking with the greatest care. Among many recent costsaving efforts, the Museum previously instituted a hiring freeze and eliminated merit salary increases for the next fiscal year.

The Met is immensely grateful to all of its retail employees for their diligence and loyalty, and regrets deeply that recent losses in retail revenues -- as well as prospective, significant, and long-term reductions in annual operating income for the Museum from its endowment -- combine to make these extremely painful decisions absolutely necessary to bring the Museum’s operating expenses in line with reduced income during the difficult months and years to come.

In addressing these issues, the Trustees and management of the Metropolitan re-emphasize the institution’s determination -- even in the wake of unprecedented financial pressures -- to keep fully its longtime covenant with the museum-going public. The Met will continue to provide not only a safe repository for its vast collections, but a haven of enlightenment, education, and illumination for its diverse visitors from around the city and around the world, particularly at this time -- when institutions that provide solace and inspiration are needed more than ever.

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Arts Advocacy Update LXXX

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of March 11, 2009:

Hollywood goes to Washington
Variety, 3/9/2009

"The Motion Picture Assn. of America will amp up its Washington lobbying efforts on April 21 with an all-day symposium to 'educate top national policy and lawmakers about the economic impact of the motion picture industry.' The event, to be held at the Donald Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture, mirrors a similar effort in 2007, which brought an array of studio execs and creative types to the nation's capital to make the case for the industry's contributions to the national economy.... This year, the event will focus on the industry's ability to provide middle- and working-class jobs."
So very Hollywood -- who knows who they'll trot out. Why doesn't the American theater -- or music or dance or any other discipline or genre -- try to do the same thing? Isn't this half the issue with the arts in America -- a lack of knowledge and awareness among senators and representatives? Instead of running around and trying to perpetuate aging business models, why not something like this?

Artists are losing jobs fast and furiously
Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009

"The country's dire economic situation is hitting artists hard -- harder than other professionals. According to new research announced today by the National Endowment for the Arts, working artists are unemployed at a higher rate than other workers, and at a rate that is rising more rapidly than other professions.... Artists are unemployed at twice the rate of professional workers, a category in which artists are grouped because of their high levels of education."
To paraphrase Shakespeare, "The first thing we do, let's unemploy all the artists."

Taking Artistic Liquidities
Harvard Crimson (Cambridge, MA), 3/5/2009

"There will be no starving artists at Harvard. Just over a week after University officials announced that the endowment—the largest in higher education—fell a precipitous 22 percent in a four- month period, the University-wide Task Force on the Arts called for ambitious plans to bolster the place of arts on campus. The committee proposed the construction of major new arts facilities and sweeping changes to the undergraduate curriculum and graduate programs. "
Great article, although, once again, it's really difficult to find tears for Harvard.

Arts center stalled? Call it a stadium, Scott Randolph says
Orlando Sentinel (FL), 3/6/2009

"State Rep. Scott Randolph has a novel idea to try to save Orlando's delayed performing-arts center: Treat it like a sports stadium. The Orlando Democrat has filed a bill (HB 1183) to give performing-arts centers in Florida that draw 150,000 or more paying customers the same $2 million-a-year sales-tax rebate that many professional sports stadiums and spring-training sites get from the state."
Works for me. That's smart thinking.

Congress Passes $155M for NEA and NEH
Americans for the Arts website, 3/11/2009

"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 National Endowment for the Arts 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."
Yay! Oh, and how much of that $10 million won't go to previously funded NEA grantees, hm?

Corzine's 2009 budget would cut $5.2M in arts funding
Star-Ledger, 3/10/2009

"Gov. Jon Corzine today proposed cutting arts funding to $17.1 million, a drop of $5.2 million that would reduce arts support to 2004 levels.... The arts council's $16 million budget is the minimum called for in the hotel-motel occupancy tax, the dedicated revenue stream that funds the state's theaters, music groups, dance troupes and art museums.... The 2003 law that created the tax, which also supports the state's historical commission, cultural trust and tourism, includes a 'poison pill' provision that eliminates the tax if the arts council portion drops below $16 million."
It's just stupid. It's such a small cut and it will hurt the New Jersey economy far more than it will help. Then again, Corzine may not be reelected anyway.

Hard times no license to rob the arts
The Oregonian, 3/7/2009

"With a tumbling economy, declining attendance and tapped-out donors, things are hard enough for the arts, historical museums and other cultural institutions. That's why it's all the more disturbing to see Oregon lawmakers rummaging for money in the only statewide source of arts funding, the cultural trust.... Lawmakers must find a way to restore the $1.8 million taken from the cultural trust as part of the budget-balancing agreement approved by the Oregon Senate last week," says The Oregonian Editorial Board.
Notice the stern language. Good for the Oregonian. Make those people hang their heads in shame. Blithering fools for trying to raid the Cultural Trust.

NJ bill would lift nonprofit spending restrictions - AP, 3/8/2009
"With stocks in freefall and the economy sliding, nonprofit organizations have seen their endowments plunge in value, hurting their ability to feed the poor and run museums, among other activities. But the losses have created an unexpected consequence: Some groups can't use the funds that remain. New Jersey law prohibits many nonprofits from spending certain pools of money if the funds have decreased from their original value. The law, adopted by most states, has restricted the groups' spending as values of stocks and other investments have fallen this past year. But a new bill being tossed around by a New Jersey Senate committee could soon make the off-limit funds accessible."
This is actually as important, and perhaps more so, than whether Gov. Corzine slashes NJ arts funding or not. Very glad this legislation may get through. Arts groups need it, badly.

Philly mayor supports arts groups even amid cuts
Google News - AP, 3/8/2009

"Arts and cultural organizations are often dismissed as a frivolity, the first to go when the budget ax swings even as supporters tout them as powerful economic engines that employ workers and support businesses far beyond the cliche wine-and-cheese set.... But Philadelphia's mayor, in a departure from his predecessor, believes the arts are key to generating revenue and strengthening the community."
Here is a nifty and important excerpt from the story:

"Nutter cited figures from a recent Philadelphia Cultural Alliance report that arts and culture in the region employs 40,000 people and generates more than $1 billion in economic activity every year. More people visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art annually than a season of Philadelphia Eagles' home games, he added.

The Philadelphia Cultural Fund's budget for fiscal 2009 was cut by 24 percent (from $4.2 million to $3.2 million) from the initial spending plan. However, that's still an overall budget increase from the previous fiscal year. The nonprofit entity allocates funds to hundreds of local organizations."

Seattle arts report: Corporate gifts down most
Seattle Times, 3/10/2009

A new report says "[t]he recession is hitting Puget Sound arts and cultural organizations hard," with endowments, contributions, and gifts from foundations and individuals all dramatically reduced. The study, commissioned by the Seattle Mayor's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Seattle Foundation, Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and 4Culture, "identified ways donors could collaborate to help the arts sector, such as setting up a revolving loan fund and a collective investment for technology. Donors could also help support the arts without spending any money — by cutting application paperwork, extending current grants another year, offering loan guarantees or lines of credit, and encouraging arts groups to share resources and work with nonprofits outside the arts."
All good ideas. I'd love to know what the economic toll of excessive paperwork is and whether it varies by region or state and to what degree it can be quantified.

Study: Corporate giving to dip in 2009
Philadelphia Business Journal (PA), 3/4/2009

"The economic downturn will have a major impact on corporate philanthropy in 2009, according to a Conference Board survey of 158 companies about their planned changes in corporate giving programs. About 45 percent of those surveyed had already implemented a reduction in their 2009 giving budgets and 16 percent were considering it, while 35 percent said they would make fewer grants in 2009 and 22 percent are considering doing the same..... The biggest increase will come in volunteerism, with 45 percent of respondents reporting a resources increase in that area. Arts and culture will most likely see the biggest drop, with 34 percent reporting a decrease in resources devoted to the arts."

White House Rethinks Tax Hikes
Wall Street Journal, 3/5/2009

"President Barack Obama is meeting strong Democratic Party resistance to his proposal to reduce tax deductions enjoyed by upper-income Americans and could be forced to drop or modify the idea. Mr. Obama in his budget blueprint last week proposed a cap on itemized deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations to help pay for his health-care overhaul. The plan would cost wealthier taxpayers about $318 billion in new taxes over 10 years, according to government estimates. But after objections from Democratic lawmakers, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner appeared to suggest at one point Wednesday that the administration was willing to consider dropping or modifying the proposal."
Because, after all, the wealthiest 1% of the American people have suffered so very disproportionately in the last eight years...

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