Sunday, November 16, 2008

Arts Advocacy Update LXVI

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of November 12, 2008:

Book Publishers Take Leaps Into Digital
New York Times, 11/9/2008

"Long after other media joined the digital revolution, book publishers clung to the reassuringly low-tech tools of printing press, paper and ink. But now the world of books is starting to go digital, too. Late last month, American authors and publishers reached an agreement with Google to settle lawsuits over Google’s Book Search program, which scans millions of books and makes their contents available on the Internet. The deal lets Google sell electronic versions of copyrighted works that have gone out of print."
This is going to set off firestorms left and right (see the next item below). I'm a bit on the fence as to whether this, in the long run, will be a good or bad thing.

Google's copyright war will have open access advocates up in arms
Guardian (UK), 11/6/2008

Writing about the proposed settlement book publishers and authors have reached with the Google Book Search project, Seth Finkelstein notes that "Librarians and open access advocates have not all been enthusiastic." Concerns range from "limitations on access to and use of the books by members of the higher education community and by patrons of public libraries" to "the consolidation of information" and "one company . . . cornering the market on online access."
Obviously this is all about the "anti" side of the discussion, and opponents of the Google agreement clearly have strong and, no doubt, passionate arguments. The question is whether the opponents can coalesce and propose alternatives to what Google wants to do. Because one way or the other, someone, somewhere is going to make a go of this idea. The question is one of regulation, orphaned works and the enduring symbol, not to mention legal force, held within the concept of the copyright.

Obama Embraces Net Neutrality, Plans to Hire National CTO
The Mac Observer, 11/7/2008

"President-elect Barack Obama's transition team has published its Technology Agenda, a plan that includes embracing and promoting Net Neutrality and plans for the nation's first Chief Technology officer. The policy position also speaks to a right to privacy as it relates to technology, the First Amendment and the Internet, using technology to allow access to government, reforming the patent system, and improving access to next-generation broadband access."
Wow. Bless him for this. I think the headwinds he's going to meet from media interests is going to be tremendous, though. It's going to be far nastier than anybody thinks. But I'm with him 100%.

District would make art tax-free
Monroe News Star (LA), 11/12/2008

"Artists in downtown Monroe [LA] may soon get a break from local and state sales taxes, which totals 9.99 percent, when they sell original art at their galleries. The Monroe Chamber of Commerce is working to establish a cultural district from the Masur Museum of Art at 1400 S Grand St. north to the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens at 2006 Riverside Drive. . . . All original art sold in the district would be exempt from local and state sales taxes. . . . Owners of historic buildings, both commercial and residential, will be eligible for state income tax credits for renovation work, said chamber president Sue Nicholson said."
I love this idea, although it seems to me that it's probably much more feasible and managable in a small town than in a major metropolitan area -- the loss of tax revenue, in other words, would be too great in a large city for the idea to have legs. Still, I wish New York, for one, would become much more creative in terms of incentivizing artist-driven commerce. The government of New York City -- indeed, its business sector and its citizenry -- takes the city's artistic sector for granted. In times like these, that's dangerous. A couple bad rolls of the dice can very well prove just how dangerous that is.

Help to enliven the region's arts
Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/8/2008
The Philadelphia region's cultural future will be discussed at "the Big Canvas Confab" on December 6. "The Big Canvas grew out of forums that revealed just how proud citizens are of the region's cultural riches. Yet, at the same time, the nonprofits that maintain those assets struggle to avoid red ink. This region gives far fewer public dollars to the arts than many other regions do. So we set out to ask people from all over the region how they used arts and culture, what they valued most, what they'd be willing to do to put the sector on sounder financial footing, and what new ideas they'd like to see tried. Since June, the Big Canvas has held 13 forums, with more than 500 citizens taking part."
Here is some additional information from the story, which I thought worth pasting in here:

At the fall forums, participants discussed four possible arts and culture strategies, which distilled ideas culled from earlier sessions.

Extend the arts experience: This strategy focused on creating an arts fund that would remove barriers of poor information, cost, transportation or intimidation that impede individuals from experiencing the diversity of arts.

Nurture children's futures: This approach said that, given limited funds, it made the most sense to zero in on kids, to fill in the gaps in art education increasingly being left by public schools.

Build the creative economy: This strategy calls upon cultural leaders to work with the business community to brand Philadelphia nationally and regionally as one of the world's top creative cities, a place where innovation and artistry flourish.

Foster quality of community: This approach notes that most people experience the arts not in a concert hall, but in their daily lives in their community. So the focus should be on helping the grassroots cultural groups that serve as civic glue.

Budget cuts target tourism, technology, businesses
Gazette (Gaithersburg, MD), 11/6/2008

In Maryland, Governor O'Malley's budget cuts include "$2.3 million less for the Maryland State Arts Council."
Always, always stupid stuff like this. Our state is in trouble so let's give tourists every reason not to spend whatever money they might consider spending within our borders. Ugh.

Charities Can Expect New Regulations and Increased Giving in an Obama Administration
Chronicle of Philanthropy, 11/5/2008

"Charity leaders can expect President-elect Barack Obama and Congress to push for changes in the federal tax structure that could spur giving and add new regulations for charities and donors, tax experts say. . . . One of the key pieces of Mr. Obama’s tax platform during the campaign — a pledge to roll back some of the tax cuts extended by the Bush administration to those earning more than $250,000 annually — would probably increase charitable giving among wealthy donors by 4 percent to 8 percent according to Roberton Williams, principal research associate at the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center in Washington."
Wouldn't this be awesome? You rock, Barack.

How to spend $275 million on outdoors, clean water, arts?
Star Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN), 11/5/2008

"Now that Minnesotans have approved a sales tax increase to fund the outdoors, clean water and the arts, state officials are turning to the job of deciding who -- exactly -- will get to decide how to spend the $275 million in annual revenue. The Legislature has overall responsibility for determining how the state tax dollars will be spent, but councils or committees that include citizen members will provide advice."
So progressive, those Minnesotans -- and the arts will benefit. And the best thing is that we won't even have to talk about this again until 2033. Just read this from the story:

The new constitutional amendment will raise about $275 million a year by increasing the sales tax by 3/8 of a percent, or 38 cents on a $100 purchase. It becomes effective in July, and will continue for 25 years.

With all of the state's precincts reporting, the amendment won the support of 56 percent of those who went to the polls. Thirty-nine percent voted "no," and 5 percent of voters skipped the question and were counted as votes against the measure.

Of the new tax revenue, 33 percent, or about $90 million, will fund outdoors and wildlife habitat projects; another 33 percent will go to clean water programs; 19.75 percent, or $54 million, will be directed to statewide arts and cultural groups; and 14.25 percent, or $39 million, will be used for parks and trails.

With Obama’s election, nonprofits aim for a seat at the table
NonProfit Times, 11/5/2008

"In the wake of Obama’s victory," Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of the Council on Foundations, "anticipates many issues that affect the [nonprofit] sector to be part of any economic stimulus or tax package within the first 100 days, from incentives to grow philanthropy, like the IRA charitable rollover or the estate tax, to recognizing that the public sector needs more resources."
OK, so this is slightly off-topic, but Gunderson is one of my heroes -- an out gay Republican congressman during the 1990s. He wrote a terrific memoir and you can read more about him here.

Chicago arts organizations hold steady in uncertain economy
Medill Reports (Chicago, IL), 11/6/2008

"Even as retail spending continues to decline and Americans seem prepared to tighten their belts even further in the face of a likely recession, many still feel a commitment to culture that they’re willing to open their wallets for. That’s a marked change from the early part of this decade, when the 9/11 attacks turned charitable giving away from the arts and towards humanitarian causes. . . . The trend is especially evident among supporters of Chicago’s major arts groups, for these culture vultures aren’t yet letting the weak economy affect their giving."
Of course, Mayor Daley then goes on TV and tells Chicagoans to prepare for mass layoffs. The theatre community in the Windy City had better brace themselves.

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