Thursday, February 26, 2009

Arts Advocacy Update LXXVIII

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of February 25, 2009:

Cheap Seats, Staff Cuts Are on Tap for U.S. Nonprofit Theaters
Bloomberg News, 2/20/2009

"U.S. nonprofit theaters are cutting staff and expanding discounts as they anticipate disappointing ticket sales and fundraising, according to a new survey by the Theatre Communications Group."
And yet I don't see Theatre Communications Group formulating a long-term, sustainable solution to the recurring problem of arts funding in the United States. Just give us more NEA funding! By the way, you can link to a PDF of the TCG study here.

First family of arts lovers
Los Angeles Times, 2/24/2009

The Obama family's attendance at an Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance at the Kennedy Center "fed increasing hopes among arts advocates that the Obamas would generate a greater buzz for the arts simply by smiling in theater seats or strolling through museum galleries."
First of all, let's be grateful for a President who reads. All else flows from that.

Ailing economy is taking a toll on arts in Rhode Island and the arts scene
Providence Journal (RI), 2/18/2009

"As the economy goes, so go the arts. That was the word yesterday from Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, who reported that a declining number of arts events is affecting the state’s restaurant and hospitality industry."
And the thing is, Rhode Island has a particularly large and vivid, productive arts scene, so this is especially bad.

Arts district to transform lower Taylor Street
San Francisco Chronicle (CA), 2/21/2009

Three blocks of one of "the seediest stretches" in San Francisco "would become an arts district - some say akin to New York City's SoHo, which became an area of cheap artists' lofts and studios in the 1960s and '70s - under a plan being cobbled together by city officials, landlords, artists and Tenderloin-area nonprofit workers. The transformation gets under way today with the groundbreaking of Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, which is taking over a vacant 4,000-square-foot building that once was a porn theater."
But is there anything like rent stabilization or rent control in San Francisco? How would the artists know that they could hold onto these lofts and studios once the area gentrifies? The story doesn't address that.

Armani Donates $1 Million to Schools
New York Times, 2/17/2009

"The Italian designer and billionaire Giorgio Armani celebrated Fashion Week on Tuesday with the announcement of a $1 million donation to promote arts programs in New York City public schools. The money will be used to create the Armani Arts Institute, an umbrella program that will fund arts initiatives in schools serving some of the city’s most disadvantaged populations."
This is wonderful, of course.

Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who's Doing It Best
Edutopia, February 2009

"Arts education has been slipping for more than three decades, the result of tight budgets, an ever-growing list of state mandates that have crammed the classroom curriculum, and a public sense that the arts are lovely but not essential.... Yet against this backdrop, a new picture is emerging. Comprehensive, innovative arts initiatives are taking root in a growing number of school districts. Many of these models are based on new findings in brain research and cognitive development, and they embrace a variety of approaches: using the arts as a learning tool (for example, musical notes to teach fractions); incorporating arts into other core classes (writing and performing a play about, say, slavery); creating a school environment rich in arts and culture (Mozart in the hallways every day) and hands-on arts instruction. Although most of these initiatives are in the early stages, some are beginning to rack up impressive results. This trend may send a message to schools focused maniacally, and perhaps counterproductively, on reading and math."
What this requires is not only teachers but, equally important, parents not being afraid of creativity. If they remain that way, we'll have another generation of culturally ignorant, pointy-headed idiots.

Public, Private Sector Leaders to Present Administration with Recommendations 'To Restore Public Diplomacy as Vital, Viable Element of Smart Power'
PR Newswire, 2/19/2009

"Some seventy men and women, representing a broad spectrum of public diplomacy stakeholders and practitioners, are calling on the Administration and Congress to reinvent and restore public diplomacy as a vital and viable element of 'Smart Power'. The group today issued a set of ten recommendations to guide the new Administration and Congress as they seek to revitalize and adapt public diplomacy in the context of new geopolitical realities and new communications tools. Participants included former and current public diplomacy practitioners and thought leaders from the State and Defense departments, the National Security Council, the White House, the intelligence community, foreign assistance, the arts, academe, business, Capitol Hill, state government, the traditional and new media (including print, broadcast and Internet), think tanks and institutes, NGOs and national private sector citizen diplomacy groups."
Paging Mrs. Clinton...

$5.6M cut from Missouri Arts Council
St. Louis Business Journal, 2/19/2009

"The Missouri Department of Economic Development is withholding nearly $5.6 million from the Missouri Arts Council as the state works to close a $261 million budget shortfall this year."
Funny thing is, that's about five times what California allocates to its state arts agency. At least the proportions in this case make me understand why the actions are being taken, much as I think they're short-sighted and regrettable.

Film tax credit on cutting room floor
Wisconsin Radio Network, 2/19/2009

"Governor Doyle has scrapped the movie tax credit program which was spearheaded by his own Lieutenant Governor and non-profit group Film Wisconsin. It also lured recent filmmakers to produce the Johnny Depp flick 'Public Enemies' in the Badger State. Doyle has an alternative that allots $500,000 in grants for permanent movie making jobs."
Permanent jobs? In Wisconsin? Hey, Jonathan West, what's up with that?

Rounds wants arts money restored
Sioux Falls Argus Leader (SD), 2/19/2009

"The South Dakota Arts Council might live to see another year. Gov. Mike Rounds said Tuesday he will try to keep funding for the South Dakota Arts Council alive in the state's budget because the newly approved federal stimulus package could help free up state money."
A Republican will accept federal stimulus money to save arts funding? The dude is cruising for a GOP bruising.

Taxing situation for New York
Variety, 2/19/2009

After years of watching production lured away by government incentives, California's gotten into the game by approving a five-year $500 million tax credit program. . . . California's program, which goes into effect July 1 with a cap of $100 million annually, will likely strike at the heart of the New York production industry. Even though California's tax credit rates are far below those in some other states -- Michigan offers a whopping 42% credit -- the presence of Hollywood's existing infrastructure and the desire to stay close to home has the potential to reverse more than a decade of runaway production."
As I've always said, it's a race to the bottom, a zero-sum game. Bloomberg and Paterson now have to decide whether it's worth the fight. I would say it is, but I don't have the numbers they have.

Individuals Make Fewer $1-Million Gifts; Grant Makers Help Offset Decline
Chronicle of Philanthropy, 2/25/2009

"Charitable gifts of $1-million or more from individual donors fell by 33 percent in the last half of 2008 compared with the same period in 2007, according to a new analysis of big gifts by researchers at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy.... On a more positive note, the center, which also tracks foundation and corporate grants of $1-million and up, found that grant makers’ giving was more resilient in the face of last year’s recessionary climate. Foundations actually increased the number of grants of $1-million or more by 10 percent in the last six months of last year, from 500 to 551, and by 16 percent for the entire year. Meanwhile, corporate grants of $1-million or more remained steady, with 146 such grants made in both calendar years."
As everyone knows, I've cut my own million-dollar gift-giving way back...

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Arts Leaders Won a $50M Boost in NEA Funding...But the Game is Zero-Sum

I just came across this great story in the Denver Post. In essence, while the $50 million boost in NEA funding represents a victory for arts advocates who pressed and pressed for so hard for it that ironing out details seems unnecessary, the details, in fact, are abundantly necessary. Now, I should caution by demonstrating that the focus of the piece is on what portion of that $50 million will actually affect Colorado arts. So let me put that on the table from the piece:

Colorado is guaranteed a share of the $50 million set aside for the arts in the $787 billion federal stimulus package, but no one knows exactly how much or when the funds might start flowing….

Victoria Hutter, a spokeswoman for the National Endowment for the Arts, which is responsible for distributing the $50 million, said the agency hopes to post funding guidelines in early or mid-March….

What is known so far is that 40 percent of the stimulus money for the arts will go to state arts agencies and the country's six regional arts agencies, including the Western States Arts Federation. They will then redistribute those allocations via their existing funding channels.

Elaine Mariner, executive director of the Colorado Council on the Arts, estimates that it could receive at least $100,000 to $200,000.
Here's the catch:
But rather than boost the agency's budget, the added federal funds will likely just help make up for an expected cut to its state funding of 25 percent or more. This year, the council received $1.6 million in state appropriations and $733,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts.
So even my arguments for the funding -- which I oppose because I feel our arts advocates are not thinking in terms of long-term, sustainable funding for the arts, preferring instead to act like pathetic paupers with their palms outstretched for alms -- don't make sense in this case because you can't fall back on the economic impact argument if you've giving with one hand and taking away with the other. The federal government is just making up for state shortfalls. How awful. You won't see our arts advocates talking about that, though. That would require them to develop a vision.

And while we're at it, at least Bill Ivey is acknowledging the problem:
In all, Colorado arts organizations will likely receive several hundred thousand dollars in added funding, which will have a significant impact, said Stephen Seifert, executive director of the Newman Center for the Performing Arts and a board member of the advocacy organization Arts for Colorado.

"In a time when everybody is having to cut back, and corporate and individual giving is down," he said, "this will replace some of the money that these organizations would otherwise have counted on and might keep some people employed. Every dollar counts. I don't know how else to put it."
I should add that the Denver Post article talks about how hard it was to convince certain folks in Congress that arts funding makes good fiscal sense. Of course it is; I honor those who worked so hard to stress that point and stress that point. But what I'm getting at is something beyond that. What are we going to do fiscally to ensure -- sorry, I've got to use the term again -- long-term sustainable funding for the arts? Hello?

Parenthetically, the Denver Post also ran a story lamenting the death of print critics. Unless it went unreported (which is possible), I was saddened to see Todd London, who is executive director of New Dramatists and is one of the nicest and savviest people out there, not seem to understand what the birth and ongoing maturation of the theatrosphere means to criticism. He should open his eyes and investigate. Fast.

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Would Broadway Allow Photo Taking in the Name of Viral Marketing?

Amanda Ameer's fun blog Life's a Pitch had an interesting post yesterday that is all about what us old-school fogies would call courtesy and decorum at public performances. This means, among other things, dressing a certain way, applauding or laughing as the performance may incite or require, leaving meals in the restaurant where they belong, keeping beeping and buzzing and burring objects on mute and shutting the hell up when people are on stage doing whatever it is they do. Unfortunately, as Amanda points out and as everyone pretty much acknowledges, the ideas of courtesy and decorum are extinct, like passenger pigeons. Read this:

I was sitting in the last row of the orchestra at Alice Tully last night and, at one point during a performance, the woman to my left leaned back and loud-whispered to an usher, "There's someone taking pictures down there!", gesturing to her right dramatically. No sooner had the dutiful usher trotted off to investigate the situation did the woman to my left whip out her iPhone and take a photo herself.

Bold, madam.

[That would be seat Z104, if anyone from Lincoln Center is reading.]

During the final bows, my tricky left-neighbor took another iPhone photo, and this time, the usher told her to stop, so she first took the picture and then turned off the phone. If I were the usher, I might have said, "Ma'am, I'm gonna need to delete that photo..." and then mistakenly deleted her contacts. Simultaneously, the woman to my right busted out her camera equivalent of Zach Morris' cell phone and took a flash photo! The usher asked her to stop, at which point she implored, "But I'm a critic." and waved scribbled notes on her program in his face. (Keep in mind, this was all happening while the Chamber Music Society was playing.) I was going to point out that, as a Publicity Professional, I can safely say we were not in press seats, but I thought it best not to cause a scene while on the new hall's maiden voyage.

Aside from the fact that Amanda references the main character in Saved By the Bell, she goes on to wonder whether turning up her proud nose at the dastardly insouciance of those photo takers is actually ignoring something that could be vital to the renaissance of live performance. Read:
On the train ride home, I found myself wondering why I was being so rigid. What is actually the problem with audience members taking non-flash photos at performances? Flashes distract performers, but iPhone/Blackberry/camera phone photos are very discreet: they're silent and flashless. A second potential problem is that the artists don't have approval of photos that are taken during concerts then posted who knows where, but shouldn't performers be thrilled that someone was enjoying the experience of them playing enough to want to preserve a memory of it? We take photos when we like something, when we want to remember something or when we want to share our personal experiences with others. With that in mind, how can taking photos at concerts be against the rules? And if the photos end up on blogs or Flickr, or videos are posted on YouTube or Vimeo, what damage is done? If anything, a positive concert experience at your venue is being advertised. By prohibiting photos, presenters are essentially preventing audiences from doing the viral marketing leg-work for them.

Now, let's just be clear: the day Actors' Equity allows people sitting in Broadway houses to take photographs of actors in performance, even if they're without flash and silent as a mouse, is the day we can safely assume Armageddon has arrived. So this is really more of a theoretical question than an action item, at least for now. Is the desire among audience members to take photos of their experience (let's just forget for a moment how uncouth and obnoxious it is for a press person to do it) the kind of impulse that could, under certain circumstances, be turned into a powerful example of viral marketing? "Dear Aunt Ruth, this is me at the theatre watching Julia Roberts!" Is it so crazy? What if the rules are made so that the performers are protected and the audience thus empowered? What does live performance gain by denying audiences the ability to share in the moment in some way, to document their experience, to thwart the inherently temporal nature of the experience? I do realize that if everyone takes photos, you don't need souvenir programs, for example. Or do you? Is there a corrolation that one negates the other?

I mean, sure, part of this makes my stomach turn. But it makes you wonder.

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What? Market the Humanities? Make Their Study Job-Oriented? Oh, Stop!

Courtesy of my friend Susan Hefti of the 93rd Street Beautification Association, I was led to this story by Patricia Cohen in the Tuesday Times. I won't reiterate what the intellectual and philosophical rationale for offering humanities studies at universities is and has always been; my degree from NYU was in Liberal Arts with a concentration in theatre. But this paragraph kind of stunned me:

But in this new era of lengthening unemployment lines and shrinking university endowments, questions about the importance of the humanities in a complex and technologically demanding world have taken on new urgency. Previous economic downturns have often led to decreased enrollment in the disciplines loosely grouped under the term “humanities” — which generally include languages, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion. Many in the field worry that in this current crisis those areas will be hit hardest.
And frankly, this paragraph later in the piece stunned me -- and is probably continuing to stun, if not threaten, the academic establishment that doesn't much live in the real world in the first place:
The study of the humanities evolved during the 20th century “to focus almost entirely on personal intellectual development,” said Richard M. Freeland, the Massachusetts commissioner of higher education. “But what we haven’t paid a lot of attention to is how students can put those abilities effectively to use in the world. We’ve created a disjunction between the liberal arts and sciences and our role as citizens and professionals.”
Yep, people needs jobs, people. And that doesn't always necessarily mean jobs in the academy where the academy's perpetuation is what is taught and learned and demonstrated. Sad to read this story, but amen.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Article: 'Our Town' Hits Off-Broadway

For Edge Chicago.

Here's the tease:

In late January, the Chicago Tribune reported that local theatres "remain resilent" despite the recession. In New York, too, Broadway is putting on a brave face, with an unusually high number of productions opening this spring.

This leaves the rest of New York’s theatrical strata -- Off-Off-Broadway, which struggles even in boom times, and Off-Broadway, encompassing institutional nonprofits and a handful of commercial houses -- to ride out the storm. Especially for commercial efforts, we’re talking small casts, single- or no-set shows, and maybe a two-star name to pique the tourists.

Then there’s Scott Morfee, the commercial producer who operates Off-Broadway’s Barrow Street Theatre, who opens an open-ended run of David Cromer’s revival of Thornton Wilder’s "Our Town" this Thursday. The production has a New York cast and is based on the director’s widely acclaimed Chicago revival at the Hypocrites last spring. Given the project’s size, Morfee is clearly taking extraordinary financial risks.

"I don’t know the final number of union contracts we’re offering, but it’s 19 roles plus all the understudies, so we’re at least at 23 Equity contracts and that number will probably go higher," Morfee says. What’s more, the Barrow Street, an intimate house, has been totally reconfigured to accommodate Cromer’s vision, with just 150 seats available per performance.

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The Afternoon Report, February 25, 2009

This information, called The Afternoon Report, is provided by a daily email blast from the publicity firm of Boneau Bryan-Brown, which maintains this blog. This feature doesn't run daily but whenever The Afternoon Report seems to point out articles of interest.

Facebook, MySpace Become Mainstream Marketing Vehicles
Advertising Age – by Michael Learmonth

“Sometime in 2007, the recent grads that made up the core of Facebook came to a doleful realization: Yup, mom and all her friends are on Facebook. The following year it got worse: The once-exclusive club of the young was completely infiltrated by colleagues, bosses, neighbors and others who might not be amused when little Johnny gets tagged in a photo getting totally ripped with his pals. - As of January, more than 50% of Facebook users and 44% of MySpace users in the U.S. were over 35 years old, according to ComScore estimates. The single biggest age demographic in the U.S. on both Facebook and MySpace is now between 35 and 44. Indeed, Facebook says its fastest-growing demo is 55-plus.”
That's great. But how the heck do they monetize? I love that the premise of the story is all about how these social networking tools have become mainstream marketing vehicles, but how do they become profitable enterprises?

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Live Blogging: President Obama's Address to Congress

UPDATE: The link for the live-blogging I'll be doing on Fox is:

That's right -- Fox News has asked me to live-blog the President's address to Congress tonight, starting at 8:55pm. I will post again with the specific website link once I have it.

Sorry, too, for not posting for a few days. Been knee-deep in assignments and stuff. Forgive me!

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Socks, 1989-2009


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NYU Siege Concludes with Arrests; Pres. John Sexton, VP Lynne Brown Choose Suspensions, Not Murder

Well, the siege of my alma mater, NYU, is finally over, with the university once again living up to its reputation for negotiating in bad faith. I encourage anyone who knows how underhanded the vile administration of President John Sexton has been to keep a good eye on Take Back NYU.

Frankly, I was waiting for Sexton to order his security goons to simply burst into the cafeteria and go all Virginia Tech on the protesters. I wouldn't put it past him: there is no tactic too low for the man. Oh, and what's with trotting out Lynne Brown, vice president of university relations, to tell the protesters -- via the rolling cameras -- "You are now suspended. You have to leave NYU," as if NYU owns the public streets of the university? Pure evil. What will Brown do? Bar them from Washington Square Park? Bar them from LaGuardia Place? Let them try. If Lynne Brown thirsts for violence in the streets, they may well get their wish. I hope it doesn't come to that. The students want fiduciary transparency -- what is Sexton hiding?

Also, what does "suspended" mean? Is this high school?

This is the list of the board of trustees of NYU. Concerned students, faculty and alumni should be pelting these folks with letters and emails, don't you think? If someone organizes it, I'll help.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

State Arts Funding as a Whole? Down, Down, Down Across the Nation

I've come across this press release from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.


Legislative appropriations to state arts agencies decreased by 3.3% in fiscal year 2009, according to the Legislative Appropriations Annual Survey published by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). Between fiscal years 2008 and 2009, state arts agencies lost $11.6 million in state funds, leaving total legislative appropriations to state arts agencies at $343.1 million, or $1.12 per capita.

Fiscal year 2009 marks a decline in legislative appropriations, following four consecutive years of increases. The number of states experiencing increases (21) and decreases (24) were approximately equal, while a handful of major decreases accounted for the aggregate percent decline. The most significant cuts took place in Florida, South Carolina and New Jersey.

Click on the link above and go to page 3 for a great list of which states appropriated what.

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Arts Advocacy Update LXXVII

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of February 18, 2009:

A (Half-Price) Night at the Opera
Wall Street Journal, 2/14/2009

"Many cultural groups, hit hard by the recession, are slashing prices at the box office. It's a controversial tactic in the arts world, where profits are always hard-won. But by offering low prices on high culture, the new crop of deals provide an attractive access point, especially for casual fans."
And isn't that better, sociologically, in the long-run? I mean, half the problem is the ineffectiveness of the arts, generally, in luring people to live performance.

New Smithsonian chief sees technological future
Los Angeles Times, 2/17/2009

Wayne Clough, the new secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, says "We need to make our collections, talented scholars and other resources accessible worldwide by providing additional platforms and vehicles for educating and inspiring large audiences.... Our job is to authenticate and inform the significance of the collections, not to control access to them. It is no longer acceptable for us to share only 1% of our 137 million specimens and artifacts in an age when the Internet has made it possible to share it all."
Will we need stimulus money to pay for that? Hire me!

Verdi With Popcorn, and Trepidation
New York Times, 2/15/2009

"Thanks largely to the efforts of the Metropolitan Opera, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are seeing live opera performances in movie theaters, and many others in repeat showings.... [But] a few voices have raised concerns about long-term effects on the art form. The dissenters say that the movement will lead to more conservative programming; that the voice will become subservient to appearance; that listeners will be trained to hear something electronic and lose an appreciation for a live experience. Some worry that vocal training will change, de-emphasizing the ability to project, and that the Met’s effort is a deal with the Devil, because it will divert audiences from local opera houses to make the easier, cheaper trip to the mall."
Well, the live-experience fear is certainly valid. That said, I think if you combine smart marketing with this trend -- see three operas on screen, get one ticket free -- it could be more than adequately addressed.

Officials favor turning facility into arts center
New Haven Register (CT), 2/16/2009

In West Haven, CT, "[l]ocal and state leaders have thrown their support behind a proposal to spend $1.2 million on renovating the old Masonic Temple on Center Street into the West Haven Cultural Arts Center. Mayor John M. Picard and City Councilman Edward M. O’Brien, D-At Large, are among those calling for state legislators to authorize bonds for the project, even as the state faces serious budget woes.... 'I think the arts center is not only important for the arts but also as an economic development driver,' Picard said."
And in West Haven in particular, that's quite true. Connecticut tends to be rather enlightened about the arts.

Asia still likes America
International Herald Tribune, 2/17/2009

"Unlike in the rest of the world, America's reputation in Asia remains robust. New evidence suggests that in East Asia, U.S. 'soft power' - the power to persuade others to do what you want them to do by attraction rather than coercion - has actually increased over the past eight years. Despite China's rise, the United States remains the leading source of soft power in the region.... When separated into categories, the United States led China in four measured areas - political, diplomatic, human capital and economic - while China led the United States in one - cultural."
How will Obama and Clinton transform the cultural export programs of the State Department? That's the question this story raises for me.

Barack and Slumdog
Huffington Post, 2/17/2009

"Unlike most countries, we are seen not only for what we are and what we do, but through the images we project globally through pop music, TV shows and Hollywood films.... If politics in the information age is about whose story wins, then, given this reality, America's storytellers -- Hollywood -- have a starring role in defining America's presence globally. For that reason, they ought to to be recruited for the new 'smart power' campaign, which must be two-fold -- projecting America abroad and projecting knowledge of others to ourselves at home."
Exactly. I refer, in fact, to the comment I posted just above.

Copyright reform unlikely, advocates say
CNet, 2/11/2009

"With a new administration and a Democratic Congress, now is the time to overhaul copyright law, advocates for reform said Wednesday--but the complex nature of the issue makes copyright legislation nearly as unrealistic as ever. Representatives of songwriters and the recording industry faced off against open Internet advocates at the Future of Music Coalition's Policy Day here in Washington, demonstrating the entrenched divisions that remain within Democratic constituencies over copyright issues.... Yet even with bank bailout plans and billion-dollar efforts at economic recovery keeping lawmakers busy, the climate in Washington may finally be right for copyright and intellectual property reform. The House Judiciary Committee this year elevated intellectual property issues from the jurisdiction of a subcommittee to the full committee because of increased interest in the matter."
It's not just in the music industry -- it's literature and fair-use issues, too. I don't get the sense that they're looking for compromise, so I tend to agree -- Congress is not about to wade into this and get egg on its face. Let the parties battle it out for a little while longer first.

Arts advocates oppose Pawlenty’s budget proposal
Rosemount Town Pages, 2/17/2009

"Pawlenty is proposing to cut the [Minnesota] Arts Board and regional councils by 50 percent over the next two years - which [theater director Sean] Dowse called 'a disproportionate burden' - and then eliminate the Arts Board after 2011." Although Minnesota passed the Legacy Amendment in 2008, "the amendment states that 'the dedicated money ... must supplement traditional sources of funding for these purposes and may not be used as a substitute.'"
Ugh. Republicans.

Arts Council faces 23% cut in budget
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 2/15/2009

"Grappling with a proposed 23 percent cut in its operating budget, the Kentucky Arts Council faces considerable pressure in maintaining its mission of serving 120 counties in the state."
Ugh. Kentucky.

California Beckons Film Crews
New York Times, 2/16/2009

"Not long ago, location filming in and around Los Angeles was viewed as a nuisance to be suffered with traffic on the San Diego Freeway and the occasional minor earthquake. But it dwindled as states like New Mexico, Louisiana and Michigan used tax incentives to lure film production, while California declined to play the subsidy game.... But that may change. On Monday the state’s legislators and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger continued to debate a budget proposal that included $100 million a year in tax credits for so-called below-the-line spending — payments other than those to the stars and filmmakers — on certain movies and television shows in the state."
That's what, $100M more than the appropriation for the California Arts Council? I exaggerate, I know.

Fundraising losses to state arts and culture groups could top $300M
Crain's Detroit (MI), 3/13/2009

"The loss of $6.1 million in state funding for arts and culture will impact arts groups’ ability to leverage federal funding and match grants in a big way. In fact, it could cause Michigan groups to lose opportunities to raise more than fifty times that amount - or a combined $310 million - through local match grants, said new ArtServe President Jennifer Goulet. Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, announced Thursday, eliminates all operational support for arts and culture but includes $1 million for capital improvement grants to those groups. It also calls for transfer of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and its staff to the Michigan Economic Development Corp., and the closure of the state Department of History, Arts and...
Here we go again -- it's the economic-impact question. People have got to make the case and stop advocating just for NEA handouts.

House Committee to Hold Hearings on Benefits of the Arts
ARTINFO, 2/13/2009

"U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, announced last week that the committee would hold a series of hearings this spring to examine how the arts benefit the nation's economy and schools, and what can be done to help support them during the economic downturn."
I'll be keeping an eye on this.

Is this any time to increase arts funding?
Crosscut (Seattle, WA), 2/16/2009

"Can the argument that arts funding is instant stimulus prevail against all the better-organized pressure groups trying to retain funding during hard times? There are three tests for the [Washington state] Governor and the Legislature. One is increasing funding for the State Arts Commission.... A second is securing some of the expiring stadium taxes for King County's arts-funding organization, called 4Culture.... The third test is a sleeper bill (HB 166 in the House, SB 5786 in the Senate) that would enable local counties to pass a tenth-of-a-cent increase in local sales tax to fund arts and cultural organizations (including such things as zoos, botanical gardens, history museums, and science museums)."
Thank you! Great story.

The Arts Need Better Arguments
Wall Street Journal, 2/18/2009

Classical music critic Greg Sandow offers a sober assessment of the fight for fifty million NEA dollars in the economic stimulus bill. The arts, he says, are not unique in generating economic impact. Further, as charities for the homeless and poor face cuts, some argue that "the arts have a lot of money, and that they largely serve an upscale audience." Although such statements may not be true, "let's not underestimate how persistent those perceptions are, especially when reality at least partly seems to back them up.... The arts are going to need a better strategy. And in the end it's going to have to come from art itself, from the benefits art brings, in a world where popular culture -- which has gotten smart and serious -- also helps bring depth and meaning to our lives. That's the kicker: the popular culture part. Once we figure that out, we can leave our shaky arguments behind and really try to prove we matter."
Well, no one said the arts are "unique in generating economic impact." The real question, Greg Sandow, is whether the GOP is prepared to attack or discount an economic sector putting $166 billion into the economy. It's not that the arts need better arguments -- the GOP needs finer arguments against it. And the left needs to stop looking to Congress for a $50M NEA boost and start thinking in terms of a long-term strategy for arts funding.

Charities Fear New Pay Limits Will Hurt Executive Donations
Wall Street Journal, 2/17/2009

"Nonprofits already face the prospect of fewer donations amid turmoil at Wall Street firms and other companies. Now, they could face another donation deterrent: Washington's plans to curb executive pay. Americans gave more than $300 billion to charity in 2007, according to the most recent figures. Some of the largest gifts from that pot have come from wealthy Wall Street bosses. Now nonprofit leaders, especially in and around New York's financial hub, are worried these big donors could feel squeezed further amid government edicts to limit pay packages."
Of course it will! But we're in a depression/recession. Them's the breaks. Why should nonprofits fight for captains of industry to take taxpayer money and give a portion of it to them?

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

What Do the NYU Protesters Want?

I received a press release and a list of demands from the NYU protesters tonight. Here is what they say, and what they're asking for. Knowing NYU President John Sexton, who'd rather tear down the Provincetown Playhouse all the while that his own son is an actor, he'll give into nothing and harm the students.

If he or anyone else at NYU harms the students physically or academically, he should be prepared for any eventuality.

This information is courtesy of Emily Stainkamp, one of the two press spokespeople for Take Back NYU:


NYU's administration refuses any face-to-face contact with student occupation, drawing out Take Back NYU!'s occupation that is currently making national news. Members of occupation are calling a press conference to demand student participation in negotiations and university decisions.

Occupied Kimmel Center on Washington Square Park, New York City (2/19/09) –

Students participating in Take Back NYU!'s occupation of NYU's Kimmel Center called for NYU's Administration to finally offer acceptable conditions for face-to-face negotiations with the occupation. NYU refuses to look students in the eye about its policies towards the occupation and its demands.

Throughout the occupation Take Back NYU! made it clear that good-faith negotiations are a condition to the occupation's end. NYU has only made one empty offer of faux negotiations after the end of the occupation.

Members of Take Back NYU! called a press conference for 5pm ET outside the Kimmel Center to demand NYU enter negotiations. The policy of stonewalling students continues NYU's legacy of inaction and obstinacy regarding student democracy and human rights at NYU – the occupation offers the administration a chance to improve its public image and stance on these key issues.

During the press conference, students will propose expansion of pressure on the university to encourage the administration to come to the table over Take Back NYU! demands regarding student democracy and human rights at NYU.

The occupation, which began at 10pm on Feb. 18th with the seizure of the 3rd floor of the Kimmel Center has made news across the country and received declarations of support from universities across the world. NYU's Administration refuses to allow the students of the occupation a place at negotiations, instead relying on threats and intransigence to try to end Take Back NYU!'s campaign.

WHAT: Take Back NYU! Occupation Press Conference to Demand Negotiations
WHEN: 5pm, Feburary 19, 2009
WHERE: Outside the occupied Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South.
And this, according to Stainkamp, is the list of the students demands. (For the record, I do not agree with all of these -- this is simply what they're demanding.)

We the students, in order to create a more accountable, democratic and socially responsible university, demand the following:

1. Full legal and disciplinary amnesty for all parties involved in the [sleepover].

2. Full compensation for all employees whose jobs were disrupted during the course of the [sleepover].

3. Full disclosure of the endowment and operating budget, published quarterly on NYUs website.

4. Full union rights for all university employees including graduate students, and collective bargaining rights for work study students.

That NYU signs a contract guaranteeing fair labor practices for all NYU employees at home and abroad. This contract will extend to subcontracted workers, including bus drivers, food service employees and anyone involved in the construction, operation and maintenance at any of NYU's non-U.S. sites.

5. The establishment of a student elected Socially Responsible Finance Committee. This Committee will have full power to vote on proxies, draft shareholder resolutions, screen all university investments, establish new programs that encourage social and environmental responsibility and override all financial decisions the committee deems socially irresponsible, including investment decisions. The committee will be composed of two subcommittees: one to assess the operating budget and one to assess the endowment holdings. Each committee will be composed of ten students democratically elected from the graduate and under-graduate student bodies. All committee decisions will be made a strict majority vote, and will be upheld by the university. All members of the Socially Responsible Finance Committee will sit on the board of trustees, and will have equal voting rights. All Socially Responsible Finance Committee and Trustee meetings shall be open to the public, and their minutes made accessible electronically through NYU’s website. Elections will be held the second Tuesday of every March beginning March 10th 2009, and meetings will be held biweekly beginning the week of March 30th 2009.

6. That the first two orders of business of the Socially Responsible Finance committee will be:

a) An in depth investigation of all investments in war and genocide profiteers, as well as companies profiting from the occupation of Palestinian territories.

b) A reassessment of the recently lifted of the ban on Coca Cola products.

7. That scholarships be provided for twelve Palestinian students for the 2009/2010 academic year. These scholarships will include funding for books, housing, meals and travel expenses.

8. That the university donates all excess supplies and materials in an effort to rebuild the University of Gaza.

9. That all university senate resolutions be binding, and all Senate meetings open to the public. Senate minutes shall also be made accessible electronically through NYUs website.

10. Tuition stabilization for all students, beginning with the class of 2012. All students will pay their initial tuition rate throughout the course of their education at New York University. Tuition rates for each successive year will not exceed the rate of inflation, nor shall they exceed one percent. The university shall meet 100% of government-calculated student financial need.
Stay tuned.

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NYU Students Protest the Opaque Fiscal Skullduggery of President John Sexton

I won't lie: this story about the NYU students storming and holding the Kimmel Center has me jumping for joy. Go NYU kids! Storm the barricades -- but always be peaceful and law-abiding. Very important.

Here's a tease:

NYU Students Barricaded Up To Protest Budget
Demonstrators Block Doors With Furniture, Call For Greater Transparency In Finances Via Live Webcam; Call For 13 Scholarships A Year For Students From Gaza

Dozens of students barricaded themselves inside NYU's student union cafeteria on Thursday, demanding increased transparency of the school's finances.

The protest is being held inside the third floor cafeteria of the Kimmel Student Center. The action began Wednesday night, at around 10 p.m., by some 70 students from NYU and other city universities.

The group has issued a series of demands, but as of early Thursday evening there had been no negotiations.

On Thursday afternoon, there were students on the outside who said they would join – if they could.

"We tried, but they have guards in front of the escalator who won't let you in," student Nora Boronkay said.

The group inside is a coalition who call themselves "Take Back NYU." Members pushed tables and chairs against doors, and the group has a live webcam posted on its Web site.

For the Take Back NYU site, click here.

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New Review: Mourning Becomes Electra

For Back Stage.

Here's the review:

In director Scott Elliott's revival of Eugene O'Neill's comedy Mourning Becomes Electra—wait a minute. This isn't a comedy. It's a tragedy, a trilogy, 13 acts in all, about a family violently disintegrating after the Civil War, a conscious, monumental remaking of Aeschylus' Oresteia with American values, faces, and voices. Why did the audience laugh?

First, forgetting the Aeschylus-O'Neill parallels, audiences know soap operas when they see them, and Mourning Becomes Electra is that if nothing else. Indeed, unless the performance I saw was dense with Ancient Greek theatre scholars, the audience intuited that Christine Mannon (the curious Lili Taylor) is an updated Clytemnestra, the radicalized wife of Agamemnon, who here is called Ezra Mannon (Mark Blum, in finest fettle). Christine doesn't love Ezra, so in his wartime absence she took up with Captain Adam Brant (the charming if miscast Anson Mount), the illegitimate Mannon cousin blamed for a family curse.

With the blue and gray armies ceasing fire, Ezra returns home to Christine in Boston. There, daughter Lavinia (Jena Malone, in a scorching performance) openly hates her mother but loves her father—an Electra complex that reflects O'Neill's desire to place psychoanalysis under the elms of his drama. Also homeward bound is brother Orin (a too callow Joseph Cross), who adores Christine and vice versa. He's the Orestes—the Oedipal complex—of the play.

Second, while audiences do laugh during O'Neill plays—the last Broadway revival of Long Day's Journey Into Night offered surprising mirth—they do so at Mourning because this tempestuous vessel feels at sea. If you asked me for Elliott's insight into O'Neill's masterwork, I couldn't answer your question. Even with a 250-minute running time (the lobby sign says four hours and 30 minutes), the revival has a manic quality, with actors often racing at subtlety's expense. This is a jolt in Taylor's case, as her Christine is a fascinating portrait in schizophrenia. The original 1931 production ran five hours, but shorter in this case doesn't guarantee satisfaction.

As in the Oresteia plays after Agamemnon—The Libation Bearers and The Eumenides—horrors ensue. Lavinia, aware of Christine's affair with Brant and maybe jealous of it, tries blackmailing her mother; Christine tempts fate by slaying Ezra. Using skullduggery, Lavinia persuades the disbelieving Orin of his mother's evil, and soon he slays his mother and Adam. Now alone, Lavinia and Orin might wed two local siblings, Peter (Patrick Mapel) and Hazel (Phoebe Strole), but the Mannon curse devolves onto them. Of Mourning's three plays—Homecoming, The Hunted, and The Haunted—it's the later acts of the latter two that offer pain, fresh as a paper cut, as Orin and Lavinia vie for revenge, dominance, and a final exorcism of Mannon demons.

The play is hobbled with problems Elliott doesn't address, such as the aged gardener Seth (a kindly Robert Hogan) and his endless intoning of an old sea shanty and the Greek chorus–like declamations of faceless townsfolk. Derek McLane's set, recalling a Greek skene as O'Neill imagined; Susan Hilferty's trim period costumes; and Jason Lyons' macabre lighting do unmoor Mourning from its scholarly roots. But it needs a director consistent in his use of space, as we never glimpse the interior of the Mannon manse. Unfortunately, Elliott repeatedly violates his own conventions. It's part of a pattern of nonguidance over which we may laugh or mourn.

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New Review: Telephone

For New York Press.

Here's the review:

With This Ring
Telephone is a long distance from reality

Some people in journalism -- and everyone in academia -- consider it lame to mention Wikipedia. I hope I’ll be forgiven in this instance, as the word “disambiguation,” which springs up often on the site and refers to the process by which, say, a computer distinguishes between multiple meanings of the same word by dint of context and syntax, kept coming to mind during Telephone, the new play by poet Ariana Reines produced by the Foundry Theatre.

Directed with a teasing, mildly provocative hand by Ken Rus Schmoll, the play is inspired by Avital Ronell’s The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia and Electric Speech, a philosophical inquiry into how wire communication disorients and reorients the user. Reines’ conceit is a meditative triptych probing how the same object, the telephone, can be defined differently through time -- thus, “disambiguation.”

It begins with Alexander Graham Bell (Gibson Frazier) and Thomas A.Watson (Matthew Dellapina) appearing in a tableau redolent of the final, frightening moment of a horror film. Their dialogue is circular, and it quickly tests the mettle of the audience as Bell quizzes Watson as to the exact sequence of events that led to the fateful moment the telephone was proven to work. Their banter is jocular and scholarly, but it also has a tone that feels menacing, as if there’s something deeply disconcerting operating beneath it. Together the characters boast a music-hall quality: You expect some top-hat-and-cane action, a little soft-shoe or perhaps a thrilling barbershop trio before their stint on stage is complete.

Notably, Marsha Ginsberg’s set design consists entirely of a freestanding wall with a door. On the wall is the drawing of an owl -- nice metaphorical touch -- and what we are to believe was the first telephone. To give the dialogue energy and thrust, Schmoll directs Frazier and Dellapina to amble around the wall but at all times seemingly arbitrarily and without motivation; it’s as if we are to be prevented from developing a concrete sense as to where we are or what may have called these dotty men back to the room where history was made. Indeed, the actors are ordered, together or separately, to vanish behind the wall entirely for brief periods, as if they’re in a constant state of suspended inanimation. A dull, throbbing dramatic entropy descends as Bell and Watson indulge in cant -- or was it Kant? But at least their chatter has a theme, a thread. In the darkness between the first and second scene, the wall rises. When the lights return, Miss St. (Birgit Huppuch) -- yes, the same curious schizophrenic treated by Carl Jung, who believed she had a telephone inside of her -- is standing atop the table where the mockup telephone had been, and now Bell and Watson have gone behind the wall for good. What follows now is a monologue of colossal proportions: 20 minutes, if I had to make a guess, although it felt like 30 and might easily have been 15. What Miss St. says is genuinely unremarkable but for the fact that it’s a fugue for tin cans and a string. Just imagine everything a late 19th-century telephone operator might have heard in her ear during a month of work, reorganized and laid out as an unceasing assault of verbiage.

Huppuch, just to make it clear, indeed had to memorize this barrage of blather, so that bravura fear is what the scene finally becomes about. Bedecked in Carol Bailey’s Victorian-style dress (I’d have given her a bigger bustle), Huppuch intakes tremendous breaths like desperate, heaving gasps, and simply surrenders to the illogic of the words, managing to render moments of light and shade, of comedy and tragedy, inlaid with lots of irony as she just plows right through it. As an example of acting technique, it’s remarkably well done. The problem is that we intuit the point of the scene about midway through, and a language monsoon can only enthrall and dowse you for only so long. Also, does the telephone make people schizophrenic? While we ponder that, it’s time for the capstone on the evening. Between the second and third scenes, the freestanding wall has been raised so it hangs perhaps seven or eight feet horizontally above the stage. In an example of lighting designer Tyler Micoleau’s inventiveness in the intimate confines of the Cherry Lane Theatre, the final scene consists of dimly lit tableaux that features all three of the actors. Overhead is heard a series of interlocking cell-phone calls in which people profess their love -- or become highly needy about doing so. It is, at last, a 21st-century moment, with all the non-drama you can imagine.

Schmoll doesn’t ask the actors to gaze at their navels during this sequence, but given that we can only discern mild shadows and poses, we wouldn’t know it if they did. I’d offer an analysis of what the final scene means, but call waiting just clicked in. Bye.

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The Afternoon Report, February 19, 2009

This information, called The Afternoon Report, is provided by a daily email blast from the publicity firm of Boneau Bryan-Brown, which maintains this blog. This feature doesn't run daily but whenever The Afternoon Report seems to point out articles of interest.

Amtrak Guest Rewards Joins Forces with Audience Rewards Points Program

“Amtrak Guest Rewards and Audience Rewards, the Official Loyalty Program of Broadway, announced an exciting new marketing partnership designed to promote and make theatre more accessible to Amtrak Guest Rewards members. Starting today, members of Amtrak's program can transfer their points into Audience Rewards ShowPoints and Audience Rewards members can convert their ShowPoints to Amtrak Guest Rewards points.

"Amtrak is a critical marketing partner for Broadway given the access and reach it provides to potential theatre goers from major markets such at Boston, Providence, New Haven, Philadelphia, and the Washington D.C. area. We believe this partnership will create exciting marketing opportunities for producers to reach new customers and for loyal Amtrak users to experience the magic of Broadway through special offers, ticket awards using their Amtrak points, and truly unique theatre experiences," said Josh Lesnick, CEO and President of Audience Rewards.

Partnership Details
• Membership in both programs is required for members to exchange their points.
• Points can be exchanged between programs on a one-to-one ratio.
• Audience Rewards' free ticket awards start at 2,800 points. Amtrak free ticket awards start at 1,000 points.
• Amtrak Guest Rewards members will be offered opportunities to experience unique access to "behind the scenes" Broadway events, previews, and special Amtrak-only award redemption options.
• Audience Rewards members will receive special offers from Amtrak that deliver value and savings for people who want to visit New York City and see a show.”
I'd love to see statistics on how many specifically Broadway-bound theatergoers there are.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

New Article: Obama’s Foreclosure Fix — What’s McCain Thinking Today?

The Fox Forum asked me today if I'd be interested in writing something about the housing stabilization plan offered by the President, and here is what I wrote. It's very short, but I think it does make the point.

Here's the tease:

The proactive and progressive nature of President Obama’s plan should give Senator McCain a bit of pause, for it was he, let’s recall, who placed squarely within the center of the national spotlight his belief that the recovery of the economy would not be possible without the immediate stabilization of the housing market.

For the rest (just a little bit), click here.

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Obama Unveiling Foreclosure and Housing Stabilization Plan Today

I have in my possession an advance copy of the speech President Obama is due to deliver later today in Arizona, announcing his plan to forestall more foreclosures in the national housing market and thereby begin to stabilize the housing situation.

The speech itself was embargoed until 9am EST this morning; he's delivering the speech at 12:15. Here it is:

I’m here today to talk about a crisis unlike any we’ve ever known – but one that you know very well here in Mesa, and throughout the Valley. In Phoenix and its surrounding suburbs, the American Dream is being tested by a home mortgage crisis that not only threatens the stability of our economy but also the stability of families and neighborhoods. It is a crisis that strikes at the heart of the middle class: the homes in which we invest our savings, build our lives, raise our families, and plant roots in our communities.

So many Americans have shared with me their personal experiences of this crisis. Many have written letters or emails or shared their stories with me at rallies and along rope lines. Their hardship and heartbreak are a reminder that while this crisis is vast, it begins just one house – and one family – at a time.

It begins with a young family – maybe in Mesa, or Glendale, or Tempe – or just as likely in suburban Las Vegas, Cleveland, or Miami. They save up. They search. They choose a home that feels like the perfect place to start a life. They secure a fixed-rate mortgage at a reasonable rate, make a down payment, and make their mortgage payments each month. They are as responsible as anyone could ask them to be.

But then they learn that acting responsibly often isn’t enough to escape this crisis. Perhaps someone loses a job in the latest round of layoffs, one of more than three and a half million jobs lost since this recession began – or maybe a child gets sick, or a spouse has his or her hours cut.

In the past, if you found yourself in a situation like this, you could have sold your home and bought a smaller one with more affordable payments. Or you could have refinanced your home at a lower rate. But today, home values have fallen so sharply that even if you made a large down payment, the current value of your mortgage may still be higher than the current value of your house. So no bank will return your calls, and no sale will return your investment.

You can't afford to leave and you can't afford to stay. So you cut back on luxuries. Then you cut back on necessities. You spend down your savings to keep up with your payments. Then you open the retirement fund. Then you use the credit cards. And when you’ve gone through everything you have, and done everything you can, you have no choice but to default on your loan. And so your home joins the nearly six million others in foreclosure or at risk of foreclosure across the country, including roughly 150,000 right here in Arizona.

But the foreclosures which are uprooting families and upending lives across America are only one part of this housing crisis. For while there are millions of families who face foreclosure, there are millions more who are in no danger of losing their homes, but who have still seen their dreams endangered. They are families who see “For Sale” signs lining the streets. Who see neighbors leave, and homes standing vacant, and lawns slowly turning brown. They see their own homes – their largest single assets – plummeting in value. One study in Chicago found that a foreclosed home reduces the price of nearby homes by as much as 9 percent. Home prices in cities across the country have fallen by more than 25 percent since 2006; in Phoenix, they’ve fallen by 43 percent.

Even if your neighborhood hasn’t been hit by foreclosures, you’re likely feeling the effects of the crisis in other ways. Companies in your community that depend on the housing market – construction companies and home furnishing stores, painters and landscapers – they’re cutting back and laying people off. The number of residential construction jobs has fallen by more than a quarter million since mid-2006. As businesses lose revenue and people lose income, the tax base shrinks, which means less money for schools and police and fire departments. And on top of this, the costs to a local government associated with a single foreclosure can be as high as $20,000.

The effects of this crisis have also reverberated across the financial markets. When the housing market collapsed, so did the availability of credit on which our economy depends. As that credit has dried up, it has been harder for families to find affordable loans to purchase a car or pay tuition and harder for businesses to secure the capital they need to expand and create jobs.

In the end, all of us are paying a price for this home mortgage crisis. And all of us will pay an even steeper price if we allow this crisis to deepen – a crisis which is unraveling homeownership, the middle class, and the American Dream itself. But if we act boldly and swiftly to arrest this downward spiral, every American will benefit. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

The plan I’m announcing focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly: by refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it; by modifying loans for families stuck in sub-prime mortgages they can’t afford as a result of skyrocketing interest rates or personal misfortune; and by taking broader steps to keep mortgage rates low so that families can secure loans with affordable monthly payments.

At the same time, this plan must be viewed in a larger context. A lost home often begins with a lost job. Many businesses have laid off workers for a lack of revenue and available capital. Credit has become scarce as the markets have been overwhelmed by the collapse of securities backed by failing mortgages. In the end, the home mortgage crisis, the financial crisis, and this broader economic crisis are interconnected. We cannot successfully address any one of them without addressing them all.

Yesterday, in Denver, I signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which will create or save three and a half million jobs over the next two years – including 70,000 in Arizona – doing the work America needs done. We will also work to stabilize, repair, and reform our financial system to get credit flowing again to families and businesses. And we will pursue the housing plan I am outlining today.

Through this plan, we will help between seven and nine million families restructure or refinance their mortgages so they can avoid foreclosure. And we are not just helping homeowners at risk of falling over the edge, we are preventing their neighbors from being pulled over that edge too – as defaults and foreclosures contribute to sinking home values, failing local businesses, and lost jobs.

But I also want to be very clear about what this plan will not do: It will not rescue the unscrupulous or irresponsible by throwing good taxpayer money after bad loans. It will not help speculators who took risky bets on a rising market and bought homes not to live in but to sell. It will not help dishonest lenders who acted irresponsibility, distorting the facts and dismissing the fine print at the expense of buyers who didn’t know better. And it will not reward folks who bought homes they knew from the beginning they would never be able to afford. In short, this plan will not save every home.

But it will give millions of families resigned to financial ruin a chance to rebuild. It will prevent the worst consequences of this crisis from wreaking even greater havoc on the economy. And by bringing down the foreclosure rate, it will help to shore up housing prices for everyone. According to estimates by the Treasury Department, this plan could stop the slide in home prices due to neighboring foreclosures by about $6,000 per home.

Here is how my plan works:

First, we will make it possible for an estimated four to five million currently ineligible homeowners who receive their mortgages through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to refinance their mortgages at lower rates.

Today, as a result of declining home values, millions of families are “underwater,” which means they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. These families are unable to sell their homes, and unable to refinance them. So in the event of a job loss or another emergency, their options are limited.

Right now, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – the institutions that guarantee home loans for millions of middle class families – are generally not permitted to guarantee refinancing for mortgages valued at more than 80 percent of the home’s worth. So families who are underwater – or close to being underwater – cannot turn to these lending institutions for help.

My plan changes that by removing this restriction on Fannie and Freddie so that they can refinance mortgages they already own or guarantee. This will allow millions of families stuck with loans at a higher rate to refinance. And the estimated cost to taxpayers would be roughly zero; while Fannie and Freddie would receive less money in payments, this would be balanced out by a reduction in defaults and foreclosures.

I also want to point out that millions of other households could benefit from historically low interest rates if they refinance, though many don't know that this opportunity is available to them – an opportunity that could save families hundreds of dollars each month. And the efforts we are taking to stabilize mortgage markets will help these borrowers to secure more affordable terms, too.

Second, we will create new incentives so that lenders work with borrowers to modify the terms of sub-prime loans at risk of default and foreclosure.

Sub-prime loans – loans with high rates and complex terms that often conceal their costs – make up only 12 percent of all mortgages, but account for roughly half of all foreclosures.

Right now, when families with these mortgages seek to modify a loan to avoid this fate, they often find themselves navigating a maze of rules and regulations but rarely finding answers. Some sub-prime lenders are willing to renegotiate; many aren’t. Your ability to restructure your loan depends on where you live, the company that owns or manages your loan, or even the agent who happens to answer the phone on the day you call.

My plan establishes clear guidelines for the entire mortgage industry that will encourage lenders to modify mortgages on primary residences. Any institution that wishes to receive financial assistance from the government, and to modify home mortgages, will have to do so according to these guidelines – which will be in place two weeks from today.

If lenders and homebuyers work together, and the lender agrees to offer rates that the borrower can afford, we’ll make up part of the gap between what the old payments were and what the new payments will be. And under this plan, lenders who participate will be required to reduce those payments to no more than 31 percent of a borrower’s income. This will enable as many as three to four million homeowners to modify the terms of their mortgages to avoid foreclosure.

So this part of the plan will require both buyers and lenders to step up and do their part. Lenders will need to lower interest rates and share in the costs of reduced monthly payments in order to prevent another wave of foreclosures. Borrowers will be required to make payments on time in return for this opportunity to reduce those payments.

I also want to be clear that there will be a cost associated with this plan. But by making these investments in foreclosure-prevention today, we will save ourselves the costs of foreclosure tomorrow – costs borne not just by families with troubled loans, but by their neighbors and communities and by our economy as a whole. Given the magnitude of these costs, it is a price well worth paying.

Third, we will take major steps to keep mortgage rates low for millions of middle class families looking to secure new mortgages.

Today, most new home loans are backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which guarantee loans and set standards to keep mortgage rates low and to keep mortgage financing available and predictable for middle class families. This function is profoundly important, especially now as we grapple with a crisis that would only worsen if we were to allow further disruptions in our mortgage markets.

Therefore, using the funds already approved by Congress for this purpose, the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve will continue to purchase Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage-backed securities so that there is stability and liquidity in the marketplace. Through its existing authority Treasury will provide up to $200 billion in capital to ensure that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can continue to stabilize markets and hold mortgage rates down.

We’re also going to work with Fannie and Freddie on other strategies to bolster the mortgage markets, like working with state housing finance agencies to increase their liquidity. And as we seek to ensure that these institutions continue to perform what is a vital function on behalf of middle class families, we also need to maintain transparency and strong oversight so that they do so in responsible and effective ways.

Fourth, we will pursue a wide range of reforms designed to help families stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure. My administration will continue to support reforming our bankruptcy rules so that we allow judges to reduce home mortgages on primary residences to their fair market value – as long as borrowers pay their debts under a court-ordered plan. That’s the rule for investors who own two, three, and four homes. It should be the rule for ordinary homeowners too, as an alternative to foreclosure.

In addition, as part of the recovery plan I signed into law yesterday, we are going to award $2 billion in competitive grants to communities that are bringing together stakeholders and testing new and innovative ways to prevent foreclosures. Communities have shown a lot of initiative, taking responsibility for this crisis when many others have not. Supporting these neighborhood efforts is exactly what we should be doing.

Taken together, the provisions of this plan will help us end this crisis and preserve for millions of families their stake in the American Dream. But we must also acknowledge the limits of this plan.

Our housing crisis was born of eroding home values, but also of the erosion of our common values. It was brought about by big banks that traded in risky mortgages in return for profits that were literally too good to be true; by lenders who knowingly took advantage of homebuyers; by homebuyers who knowingly borrowed too much from lenders; by speculators who gambled on rising prices; and by leaders in our nation’s capital who failed to act amidst a deepening crisis.

So solving this crisis will require more than resources – it will require all of us to take responsibility. Government must take responsibility for setting rules of the road that are fair and fairly enforced. Banks and lenders must be held accountable for ending the practices that got us into this crisis in the first place. Individuals must take responsibility for their own actions. And all of us must learn to live within our means again.

These are the values that have defined this nation. These are values that have given substance to our faith in the American Dream. And these are the values that we must restore now at this defining moment.

It will not be easy. But if we move forward with purpose and resolve – with a deepened appreciation for how fundamental the American Dream is and how fragile it can be when we fail in our collective responsibilities – then I am confident we will overcome this crisis and once again secure that dream for ourselves and for generations to come.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God bless America.

The specific, line by line details of the plan can be seen at this PDF here.

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Is East 93rd Street Destined for Cannibalization?

Either its my imagination or the stretch of East 93rd Street just adjacent to the Carnegie Hill Historic District -- where Susan Hefti and the 93rd Street Beautification Association has been leading the charge to have the block, with its elegant and precious collection of brownstones, added to the district -- is being circled by developers and greed-mongers like a collection of seagulls that haven't eaten since 1985.

From the tale of a penthouse owner who wants permission to build a penthouse on top of a penthouse and will do anything, including lie about his building's history, to get his way, to the reluctance of city officials to name their block Marx Brothers Place, in honor of the building on the block where the Marx Brothers were raised, it seems that every time I turn around, another drama is going on on East 93rd Street.

The latest -- conveyed to me via this announcement (below) from the Beautification Association -- makes me terribly ill:

At 6:30pm on Wed., Feb. 18, Community Board 8 (CB8) will meet in the auditorium of Sloan Kettering at 401 E. 66th St. to consider a proposal to put a whole new floor on top of the remarkable landmark building at 75 East 93rd Street in historic Carnegie Hill.

The landmark, known as the Baker Mansion, sits within the boundaries of the Carnegie Hill Historic District and is considered an architectural gem in NYC's narrowing collection of historic structures.

The proposal to drastically alter this historic landmark is being put forward by the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to whom the historic site was given as a gift many years ago. The Synod of Bishops claims to need the proposed alterations in order to generate a steady source of income for the church.

The proposal, which is being driven by the synod's treasurer -- actually sits in Russia and London, but not in NYC - also includes a plan to tear up the historic landmark's famous courtyard, and ancient trees, so that the synod can maximize its potential profit by building a subterranean rental space that would significantly multiply the physical mass of the structures at 75 East 93rd Street in Carnegie Hill.

Curiously, the actual parishioners of the church boldly and vociferously oppose the synod's proposal. These feisty parishioners have formed a Committee to Preserve and have already raised $4 million dollars in order to show the city that the church does not need to alter this remarkable landmark in order to meet its financial responsibilities.

Many of these parishioners spoke very passionately against the proposal at the CB8 Landmarks Committee Meeting on February 9, and plan to protest the proposal again at CB8's Full Board Meeting on Wednesday, February 18.

Neighbors, preservationists, neighborhood associations and planning organizations turned out in force for the February 9th CB8 Landmarks Committee Meeting (Historic Districts Council; Carnegie Hill Neighbors; CIVITAS; 93rd Street Beautification Association; Friends of the Upper East Side, et. al., were all in attendance). And we hope they will all attend Wednesday's Full Board Meeting of CB8, too!

The public turnout on February 9 made a huge difference: CB8's Landmarks Committee voted to recommend to the full board that the Synod's proposal be disapproved. But, as we all know, the full board of CB8 does just as it pleases.

So please don't miss the CB8 Meeting. Please let the Board know that you want the city to protect its historic districts, its historic neighborhoods and its historic landmarks!

Let us pray. Um, really hard.

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Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Unveils Women's History Month Events

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has announced event programming in connection with Women's History Month. I do wish GVSHP would schedule some more arts-, performance- and theatre-related events going forward, but these are obviously great as well.

The Bohemian Women of Greenwich Village and Harlem
A Lecture with Andrea Barnet

Tuesday, March 3, 2009
6:30-8:00 P.M.
Judson Memorial Hall
239 Thompson Street between W. 4th and W. 3rd Streets
Free; reservations required
RSVP to or (212) 475-9585 ext. 35

They were the first women to eschew the social conventions expected of them (to be wives and mothers) and chose instead to live on their own terms, becoming poets, actresses, singers and artists, journalists, publishers, and benefactresses. Join historian and author Andrea Barnet as she explores the history of the women of bohemian Greenwich Village and Harlem in the headlong, hopped-up decades of the 1910s and 1920s. These women embodied a fierce new feminine spirit, capturing the gleefully rebellious ethos of life as art form, and the air of lawless idealism that briefly took hold of the popular imagination in the early 20th century.

Shifting Images: Changing Perceptions of Italian Immigrant Women
A Lecture with Miriam Cohen

Tuesday, March 17, 2009
6:30-8:00 P.M.
Judson Memorial Hall
239 Thompson Street between W. 4th and W. 3rd Streets
Free; reservations required.
RSVP to or (212) 475-9585 ext. 35

While the conventional wisdom regarding women and family from Mediterranean cultures has emphasized the patriarchal nature of the family, a generation of new scholarship on Italian women, work, family life and politics has complicated our understanding of gender roles in the Italian community. Focusing on Italian women in New York City, including the South Village, Miriam Cohen explores the changing perceptions and images of Italian-American immigrant women in the twentieth century.
This event is co-sponsored by the Italian American Museum.

In Their Own Words:
A Salute to the Women of the Greenwich Village Preservation Movement

Thursday, April 2, 2009
6:30-8:00 P.M.
Judson Memorial Hall
239 Thompson Street between W. 4th and W. 3rd Streets
Free; reservations required.
RSVP to or (212) 475-9585 ext. 35

GVSHP’s Oral History Project, conducted over 10 years and only now available to the public, features interviews with many of the most influential women of the preservation movement, including Margot Gayle, Verna Small, and Jane Jacobs. Hear fascinating selections from their oral histories shedding new light on their experiences and passion for preservation. Introduction by Susan De Vries, director of the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum and conductor of several of the interviews, and a keynote lecture on Jane Jacobs by Roberta Brandes Gratz, former award-winning journalist and author of The Living City: Thinking Small in a Big Way and Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown.

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Announcing the Festival of Jewish Theatre

The Association of Jewish Theatres has announced that its annual conference will be held this year in New York. It will also overlap the Festival of Jewish Theater being mounted by Untitled Theater Company #61, which runs May 20 through June 14.

Here's some information on the conference:

We are extremely excited about this year's conference, Jewish Theatre of Ideas and Beyond which will be held June 6 – 10, 2009, in one of the hearts of Jewish theatre and the world of theatre: New York City. Untitled Theater Company #61 will be hosting us. They are presenting their Festival of Jewish Theatre and Ideas from May 23 – June 14, parallel to the conference. The festival will include over 100 performances of over 15 productions originating from across the United States and the world, at numerous venues throughout the city.

This year's conference takes advantage of New York City, highlighting Jewish theatre and culture each day:

Sunday at Marymount Manhattan, the college whose Jewish theatre festival, in 1980, inspired the creation of AJT.

Monday at 92Y Tribeca, the new hip downtown venue for Jewish arts.

Tuesday at the stately Museum of the City of New York where, with other conference activities, we will get a private tour of the theatre archives, the largest collection of its kind in the world, including Jewish and American theatre in the United States.

Wednesday will be at the Center for Jewish History, which houses six different major Jewish organizations, including YIVO with its Yiddish Theatre collection.

Conference Fees and Registration Information:
Being in New York, we expect more registrants than usual, and there are space limitations. Early-bird registrants receive a $50 discount. The conference fee is $350 for early-bird members and $400 for non-members. After April 20th the fee will be $400 and $450 respectively, so book early. There will also be day passes for guests and others wishing to attend for single days.

Registration includes three kosher meals from great New York dining venues, free tickets to UTC61's production of Doctors Jane and Alexander, five other plays of your choice at the Festival, and of course workshops and panel discussions.

Playwrights and Solo Performers:
Playwrights will once again have the very popular Playwrights' Forum, where we will present seven-minute excerpts of your plays, performed by professional actors and staged by professional directors. Playwrights please note - if you are interested in participating in this forum we can only accept the first 15 scripts submitted. The deadline is April 20. So please be sure to get your play in early to Norman Fedder:

Solo performers will once again have a solo showcase. For information on Solo Performances, email Deborah Baer Mozes at: or Jeanine Frank at: You must be registered for the full conference to participate in either program.

Two housing options are available now for those who require New York accommodations: The Muse, our main hotel, is an elegant and trendy boutique venue in the heart of midtown with a rate of $259/room or $130/night if you plan on sharing (a very low rate for a 4* hotel in New York). For those on a budget, we have an amazing deal through a partnership with NYU/Tisch School of the Arts; and have arranged for NYU dormitory room, at $60/single and $40/double per night. If you are interested in booking or sharing a room, contact Kayla as soon as possible: and she will add you to the rooming lists. Don't delay: we have guaranteed only a small number of booked rooms. We are in the process of reaching out to donors for subsidies for students. We will keep you posted.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

New Article: Q&A with Starchitect Daniel Libeskind

I was thrilled to interview starchitect Daniel Libeskind, who designed the master plan for the World Trade Center and has put his imprint on many other structures around the world, for New York.

Here's the tease:

Daniel Libeskind did not complete a building of his own until he was 52—in 1998. So it was met with some astonishment that the architect eventually won the competition to create a master plan for the new World Trade Center site.

Sudden, meteoric midlife rises in architecture are not unusual. What is unusual is Libeskind's work—ongoing teases between mind-bending geometric form and function that provoke and perplex. His Jewish Museum Berlin, for example, looks like a distorted Star of David, accessible only by underground passage.

With Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic for The New Yorker, Libeskind collaborated in late 2008 on a monograph, "Counterpoint," about his work. In the run-up to a signing and discussion at the Strand Bookstore, we asked Libeskind what's exactly going on downtown and about architecture as a whole.

Why is it taking so long for the World Trade Center site to be rebuilt?
The master plan competition was in 2003, so this isn't very long for such a vast project that's so highly political and emotional and with so many stakeholders, from the Port Authority to two governors to the mayor to the MTA. I do believe in the process and I believe what people will see emerging is very close to the vision, with the memorial, the slurry wall and the wedge of light.

Yet with all the stakeholders, you get all the opinions.
Well, since Sept. 11, New Yorkers have focused on their city and become aware of architecture-that they have to take in what they see out their windows and think about sustainability and beauty. All the buildings I have designed—take the Jewish Museum Berlin—have been big and always engaged in a very public process. You have to evolve. Art comes out of a context.

For more, click here.

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New Review: Love/Stories (or But You Will Get Used to It)

For Back Stage.

Here's the review:

Ranging from the comic to the cringe-worthy, these five one-acts by Itamar Moses suit the Flea Theater's downstairs venue because its wide, shallow space renders the fourth wall into a silly convention — like the much of the piece itself.

Love/Stories (or But You Will Get Used to It) opens with a long voiceover from Moses asking for cell phones off and other pre-show admonishments; he adds a heaping teaspoon of pithy comments to ease us into the metatheatrics to come. Then Chemistry Read — about a director (Maren Langdon) and a playwright (Felipe Bonilla) auditioning a bad actor (John Russo) and a good actor (Michael Micalizzi) with a reader (Laurel Holland) — begins. It's a piece without direct address but is staged by director Michelle Tattenbaum so the actors are in the audience's face. It's amuse bouche theatre with a light taste.

Temping, play two, ramps up the actor-audience symbiosis. A woman (Langdon) sits at a desk against the railing before the first row of seats. Adjacent to her desk is another desk with a man (Micalizzi) loudly stapling and stamping papers. On the phone, she delivers a perceptive monologue representing her side of a conversation with an ex that devolves into post-relationship drama. The man reacts drolly, typically shuffling papers to show his compassion for or impatience with her hysterics. The call ends. She yells at the man, then apologizes, then kisses him. All of this two feet from the front row, perhaps six from the rear row. Well done.

But here Moses' writing goes from a nice mix of head and heart into nutty navel-gazing. In Authorial Intent, a newly cohabitating couple (Holland and Micalizzi) breaks up. Instead of the scene ending, however, they relive the scene moment by moment, declaring to us which lines, looks, or blocking elements constituted a "performative instrument" or "formal device." When this ends, we discover the actors were playing actors in a play within the play. Then the male actor hits on the female.

In play four, Szinhaz, an edgy Russian director (Bonilla) is interviewed by one of his actors (Langdon) and reveals some dark personal secrets. Here too Langdon must dissolve into tears, which she does nicely, but the scene's point is fuzzy. Indeed, despite Bonilla's grand Russian accent, we're left more alienated than involved.

And piece five, Untitled Short Play, is psychobabbling twaddle. All night long, a reader (Russo) — clearly Moses' stand-in — has appeared at the start and end of each piece, announcing their titles and often stage directions. Now he asks us to watch a man and woman in chairs, rigid in physical and facial expressions, as he tells us about everything they're thinking and feeling. Then he slides into chatter about the difficulties of being a writer — a pity party for one.

All the actors belong to the Bats, the Flea's in-house ensemble, so they're used to keeping character in check with the audience so near. I'm always fascinated by them, and these performers are especially loose and lovely. Also nice is Tattenbaum's work, which allows the plays to breathe. The trouble is that Moses is gasping for air.

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