Maybe Michigan Simply Dislikes The Arts

Sensationalist headline aside (yes, we all know Michiganders don’t dislike the arts), Americans for the Arts distributed an action alert email on 2/15/2011 reporting that Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) introduced an amendment to add an additional $20.5 million on top of the proposed $22.5 million cut for the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) remaining 2011 budget. If you live in New Jersey; well, what’s a stronger word than “dislike?”…

Apparently, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) has no love for government arts sponsorship, at least according to the Americans for the Arts email alert which reports that Rep. Garrett wants to immediately terminate NEA funding for the remainder of 2011. As before, Americans for the Arts is providing a user friendly email template for those concerned to contact their respective representative, urging them to request a vote against the amendment.

If Rep. Garrett’s amendment succeeds, would that put Rocco Landesman out of a job

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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0 thoughts on “Maybe Michigan Simply Dislikes The Arts”

    • That comment actually bothered me a bit too. I don’t think that blanket statement was justified either but it was addressed in the article by some other folks so I didn’t want to elaborate on it. At the same time, administrative competency and executive review are undoubtedly certainly critical elements that comes into the overall equation for arts organizations when determining how well the organization is doing vis a vis its mission. so from that perspective, it’s a valid point but perhaps not in such a wet blanket application.

      • We should always be cognizant of the value that every employee provides to the process of creating great art and paying those involved in that process a fair, living-or-better wage. But yeah, that riled me up more than a little. Especially given his background, you’d imagine that Rocco would understand the nuances in good hiring, good teams, and the necessity of delegation for maximum output by all parties.

  1. I like art, too, especially things like video games (I consider video games “art”), music (especially classical music, gospel, and hymns, emphasis on hymns), and I enjoy drawing and have a blast writing in my spare time. I am not paid for any of this, nor do I want or expect to be.

    This being said, the NEA has to go, both because it’s a waste of money (can artists not fund themselves, like most people have to for their jobs?) and because, by law, it doesn’t have to obey standards of decency.

    I’m not talking about the sculpture of David by Michealangelo, I mean far worse: erotic and filthy works.


    This is a public domain letter by Phyllis Schlafly, regarding the National Endowment of the Arts and why it must be terminated, both in the name of spending cuts, but also in the name of decency…

    I am writing to urge you to terminate all appropriations for the National Endowment for the Arts. A new federal court decision provides sufficient reason to immediately abolish this offensive agency.

    In a 2-to-1 ruling, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that it is unconstitutional for a government agency to consider “decency and respect” for American values when it doles out the taxpayers’ money. That decision is an assault on decency and respect for American values.

    The winners in this case are Karen Finley, the woman who made her fame by parading on stage dressed in nothing but a layer of chocolate, and three others whose nude performances centered on homosexual themes, plus, of course, the American Civil Liberties Union. The losers are the American taxpayers and those who thought they could pass legislation in 1990 to “reform” the out-of-control National Endowment for the Arts.

    After the American public was outraged over the N.E.A.’s awarding of taxpayer grants for Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoerotic images and Andres Serrano’s photograph of a crucifix immersed in his own urine, Congress made a genuine effort to ban the flow of money to projects that are obscene, sadomasochistic or homoerotic. Congress watered that down to a legislative plea to the N.E.A. to observe “general standards of decency,” but that didn’t satisfy the federal court.

    The 1990 law required the N.E.A. to ensure that “artistic excellence and artistic merit are the criteria by which applications are judged, taking into consideration general standards of decency and respect for diverse beliefs and values of the American public.” That’s the language that Judge James Browning held violates the First and Fifth Amendment rights of artists who apply for taxpayer grants.

    Judge Browning looked to the legislative history to interpret the new law and discovered that it “was specifically designed to prevent the funding of similar [e.g., Mapplethorpe and Serrano] art works.” He quoted the law’s author, Rep. Paul Henry (R-MI), as telling Congress, “Works which deeply offend the sensibilities of significant portions of the public ought not to be supported with public funds.” Henry thought he was making a reasonable argument. But Judge Browning expressed judaical horror at such narrow-mindedness!

    In reality, N.E.A. officials took the new law with a large grain of salt. Instead of actually applying “general standards of decency,” N.E.A officials merely instructed the advisory panels (which are made up of you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-your-back friends of the grant-seeking “artists”) to bring their own definitions of these terms “to the table” and make them “part of the deliberative process.”

    But even that didn’t satisfy Judge Browning! He expressed his constitutional worry that the “decency and respect” standard is “vague” because it raises “the danger of arbitrary and discriminatory application.” The dissent replied that the statute is every bit as “vague” in specifying that “artistic excellence and artistic merit are the criteria by which applications are judged.”

    The federal court majority, however, ruled that it isn’t “arbitrary” for the N.E.A. to claim that nude and sexual on-stage performances have “artistic excellence,” but it is “arbitrary” to say that they are indecent. It takes a smart lawyer to wheedle his way out of such inconsistency, but the Circuit Court Judge was equal to the challenge.

    Judge Browning ruled that, since the litigants didn’t challenge the “artistic excellence” language, he didn’t need to deal with it. Furthermore, he asserted, the N.E.A. advisory panels have “expertise” in determining “artistic excellence,” but have “no corresponding expertise in applying such free-floating concepts as `decency’ and `respect.'” He’s probably right about that.

    Dissenting Judge Andrew Kleinfeld argued that government art grants are not “entitlements” (like Social Security or tax exemptions), or at least they shouldn’t be. In fiscal 1994, only 88 out of 5,168 applicants for Visual Artists Fellowships received grants of the type contested by the “N.E.A. Four,” so it’s obvious that arbitrary and subjective decisions were made.

    The dissent stated what should be a clear principle of law: “That offensive or indecent expression cannot be censored does not mean that the government has to pay for it.” I agree!

    The case of Karen Finley et al v. National Endowment for the Arts should be the final nail in the coffin of the N.E.A. [F]orcing the taxpayers to finance [a system] that is forbidden to observe standards of decency, is downright obscene.

    • Thanks for the comment but is there a reason you feel like fighting The Culture Wars that ended in the 80? It reminds me a bit of some of the southern states where the civil war is referred to as the War Of Northern Aggression. the government subsidizes every business that operates, for and nonprofit alike, via everything from tax incentives to direct subsidies so the assertion that artists are special in that they don’t fund themselves like others is not only incorrect but might be considered by some as naive.

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