Sunday, February 6, 2011

I'll Hufff and Puff and Blow Your House Down

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

Here We Go Again:

Last month Bob Lynch sent out an email noting that in the last Congress the Chairs of the various committees overseeing aspects of the arts, including the NEA,  all received an "A" rank by Americans for the Arts, while, unfortunately, all their replacements in the new Republican controlled House received an "F" ranking.

That note was, unsurprisingly, followed by an email from Nina Ozlu Tunceli at AFTA noting what had been reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, that there was a large 170 member plus House Republican contingency that is again seeking the elimination of the NEA.  And that announcement was on the heels of a half dozen or more states that similarly faced efforts to eliminate state arts agency funding.

So here we go again with new rallying cries to defend our local, state and federal funding revenue streams.

One aspect of the growth in arts organizations (and advantage of being 'overbuilt') over the past decade ought to be that we have even more supporters whom we can call upon to take up our cause and mount whatever campaign may be necessary to yet once again protect that which we  have previously won.  To be sure there are two groups within our sphere that will respond to new cries for action and effort:  smaller state and local agencies that depend disproportionately on government funds (including the state's whose 40% share of the NEA budget is a sizable percentage of their whole budget who will find it essential to join this fight), and (perhaps) the larger urban cultural institutions that receive decent sized grant support from these agencies (organizations with Boards that have at least some Republican representation).  But it will take a large effort on every level to turn back the anti-arts forces so I hope everyone gets involved and no one sits on the sidelines.

Again we will make the argument that it makes no sense to cut funding that demonstrably returns a far greater economic return than it costs.  The jobs we create, the industries we support and the economic activity we generate clearly make the investment in us a positive 'value',  We will, of course, have to again attack and question those who argue for our elimination on "principle".  And very likely, as in past fights, we will again have to come up with some program or approach that (in the case of the NEA for example) benefits communities across the country so that we can argue that a "no" vote on the Endowment takes  support from local communities.  We may even have to adopt some new strategy that appeals to Congress' penchant for moving away from federal government programs in favor or state or local programs by proposing something radical like we reverse the current funding formula from the 60 / 40 split between the feds and the states and flip it to a 40 / 60 arrangement in favor of the states.  (Please note I am NOT proposing this strategy, but merely acknowledging that it will probably take some kind of quasi-radical move to give cover to those who now publicly stand against us, but can be moved to our side by a major effort coming from each of their local communities).

Whatever approach we take, whatever strategy we adopt, whatever we have to do to once again defend the government thread of our funding model (whether local, state or federal), the upcoming fight(s) are again going to suck time, energy, and money from our ever more limited stores.  And the reason we are once again in this sad position is that we simply refuse to develop real political clout. We continue to be reactive  when we should have been, for some time, proactive in anticipatory defense.  We continue to refuse to support individual candidates, run for office ourselves or raise the funds to hire more lobbyists.  Now I fully accept that even with political clout we would likely still have to play this silly game, but WITH political clout it would be an easier war to wage and to win.  Alas, when you build your house out of straw like the little piggy, it isn't surprising when the Big Bad Wolf huffs and puffs and blows it down - over and over again.  One can hope the Wolf runs out of breath of course, but that remains a highly risky strategy that tends to favor the Wolf.

How long can this go on?  I know I sound like a broken record here, because I have said this so many times -  but it isn't enough just to tell our stories, it isn't enough to just make our case (no matter how convincingly), it isn't enough that God is on our side -- Every state and many local regions should develop a local PAC with a sizable cash reserve so the playing field is equalized (and which can complement the national effort of the Arts Action Fund).  Maybe this will be the wake-up call that finally motivates us to do just that. 

In any event, here we go again.  So get ready folks, the inevitable battle is enjoined.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit