Sunday, July 8, 2012

How Long Can This Go On

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on....................."

Here We Go Again:
This in on Friday from Betty Plumb of the South Carolina Arts Alliance:
"Governor Haley has issued her vetoes to the state budget eliminating state funding to the Arts Commission: $1,937,598 with Veto #1, and the additional one-time funding of $500,000 for grants in Veto #21, funding that was approved in the balanced budget submitted by the General Assembly in June.
Until the vetoes are resolved, the Governor's veto puts the Arts Commission in limbo with NO authorization to expend ANY funds, including federal monies from the National Endowment for the Arts, therefore leaving the agency unable to operate.  It will take a "super majority" to override the vetoes - 2/3rd of the House and then 2/3rd of the Senate!"
Once again, the arts are Sisyphus pushing the rock mindlessly up the hill.  To be sure, we can take some satisfaction that in most of these battles we survive.  Kansas last year, and its re-emergence this year.  But we do not survive unscathed.  These endless fights take a toll; they impact psyche and momentum, and demand huge efforts of time and energy that ought to be spent doing other things.  Camus says we "Must imagine Sisyphus happy" - but it is getting hard to take much solace out of these victories that kill us a little each time.

If anyone can successfully rally the troops and yet again beat back the forces who simply do not understand the value of the arts, it is Betty Plumb - and I wish her every success in the coming weeks. A 2/3 vote in both chambers will not be easy.  That this fight has to even be fought is a tragedy.

What strikes me yet again, is that despite all the stories we tell, despite all the data and research and the numbers which confirm our economic benefit, despite the evidence of how we build bridges, despite all our case making and our place making, all our phone calls and emails, all our entreaties, despite all our fighting endless battles - this still happens over and over and over again.  It doesn't happen to a lot of other special interest groups (we are a special interest group like it or not), at least not with the same frequency and intensity.  We ought to be asking: why is that?

I have argued repeatedly that we ought to be more political if we want to reverse this trend.  I fully accept that I am virtually alone in this belief - maybe a few others out there might agree, but for the most part the sector wants no part of that strategy.  I still find that odd, and disappointing - especially given the success AFTA has had with their PAC making fights for federal support at least easier and less frequent, but I appreciate that we are not likely to get it together to develop real widespread political power and clout anytime soon.   I wish AFTA would embark on a major effort to create state Political Action Committees across the country.  No one else is positioned to make that happen.  But I understand that that might be a threat to AFTAs PAC in that if money goes to state PACs - less may come to the federal PAC.  It will be worth watching what the Arizona arts PAC - started last year as an outcome of the state Town Hall meeting on the arts - does in the next year or so in that state.  Perhaps a model to watch.

I feel bad for South Carolina.  And in turn, bad for our whole sector.  It reminds me of the Lee Dorsey song: Working in the Coal Mine - the end line of which is the plaintive:
"Lord, how long can this go on...........?"
How long indeed?

Have a great week.

Don't Quit. ("Success is not final; failure is not fatal:  It is the courage to continue that counts.")


  1. Barry: Political action costs money - lots of it, I hear. I would love to hear your ideas for how to raise the sums needed to fight the political fight from a sector that continues to shrink financially as it is. Thanks.

    1. First, it really takes far less money than people assume it takes to have clout and impact. Lobbyists target key legislators (e.g. committee chairs et. al) in their attempts to influence legislation or win allies to their causes. It's a leverage game. And $1000 political campaign contributions get you noticed and on the radar screens. Most people assume you have to give millions of dollars to have real access and clout. Not true.
      Second, the nonprofit arts sector needs to do what every other special interest group (teachers, prison guards, the NRA ) that wants to exercise political clout does - we need to tax ourselves as it were.
      If there are at least 50,000 arts organizations in the country - and if there are 20 people (on average) that are intimately involved in each one's operations (as paid staff, boards, volunteers, principal supporters etc.), that's one million people as your core base. If 20% of that total were to pledge just $20 a year - that's $4,000,000 a year - a very substantial war chest. I think the field might be larger, and that doesn't count private sector 'for profit' arts organizations or students majoring in arts in college, nor does it count artists themselves.
      Finally, the arts have an option unavailable to most other special interest groups - art itself. If 20% of all the performing arts organizations in the country would do one benefit for arts advocacy every two or three years - and donate the net proceeds from that performance to arts advocacy (and that donation could possibly be a tax deduction for the artists themselves), that would yield millions more in proceeds.
      The arts most certainly have the potential to raise very large amounts of money and could amass significant political clout and power.