Archive for the What planet are art policy makers from? Category

It’s sort of a article of faith among many in this country that what drives America, what keeps it strong, and what should be defended at all costs is the country’s corporate-business sector. And not just defended, but pampered, and given huge bailouts and vast tax credits/breaks in times of economic downturn (even when said corporations have turned huge profits).

Why corporations shouldn’t be expected to pull up their socks like everyone else during a time of retrenchment and is beyond me. If ordinary Americans are downsizing, tightening the belt, and making do the best they can as they wait out the downturn, why shouldn’t corporations (and their greedy stockholders) do the same? After all, we’re all in this together, right? If corporations aim to make as much money as they can off the backs of ordinary Americans, exploiting loopholes, taking tax breaks, and otherwise squashing ordinary people’s hope for economic opportunity, well, more power to them. But then, after all, who will be left to be customers for these corporations?

The problem with our national obeisance to corporate business interests above all else is thrown into sharp relief when you consider that most of our continuing economic malaise — and, in particular, our continued high unemployment — has been caused by this very same corporate greed. To put it another way, most of the blame for the hiccups during the sputtering 2010 economic recovery can be attributed to the business sector. Witness: According to a recent Chronicle of Philosophy article, a new analysis of government data made by the Center for Civil Society at Johns Hopkins University shows that between the second quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2009 for-profit businesses shed jobs by an average rate of 3.3 percent a year. The continued problem of high unemployment is being caused by corporations that are simply unwilling to hire workers.

Ironically, while the very corporations that so many Americans seek to protect and coddle are at the root cause of our economic problems here and now, a more heroically productive segment of the economy is one that most Americans feel less love for. That is, despite all that our beloved corporate America, with all its blind and relentless greed, is doing to hold down the rest of the country, there is, according to the John Hopkins study, an alternative model to the corporate one. There is, in fact, quite a heroic model of economic activity; one that, despite national antipathy, is striving constantly to find a way toward national recovery. It is an economic model that has been creating jobs during the same period studied (4.6 percent job growth per year v. the corporate decline of 3.3 percent), and it is an economic model that has investing money in buildings and infrastructure and keeping more than its share of people engaged and entertained. That this economic engine has performed its economic miracle even in the midst of widespread and jealous antipathy from ordinary Americans (who tend to look at these heroes with the skepticism they should probably steer toward corporations) is even more heroic and admirable when you consider that this engine performed these miracles without touching hardly a red cent of the economic stimulus money so sloppily tossed at so many other greedy sectors of our economy.

I’m talking, of course, about the arts. It was in the arts that jobs grew, despite all the endless national pressure to cut art funding and leave the artists high-and-dry, by 4.6 percent between 2007 and 2009. It was the artists and the arts people who fought harder than any corporation has to save jobs and ensure a swift economic recovery for all in this country — and all while doing his or her best to keep us enlightened, entertained, and distracted from our various woes and burdens.

So next time you see an artist, be sure to shake his or her hand for working harder than most to keep the American dream alive.

Artists, the new economic champions of a future American recovery.

Enjoying the recession, artists?

Well, here’s a chance to tell people just how much you’re enjoying it. McKnight Foundation LINC + Helicon Collaborative are is polling experiences of individual artists within the recession. (Helicon helped design the survey, and McKnight Foundation is helping distribute it to MN artists).

Here’s hoping it’ll do some good, somehow.

If you thought the news hasn’t been bad enough for the arts over the past few years, that was before the culture brought out the salt.

Consider item one: The amendment that was supposed to dedicate a portion of a dedicated sales tax to support the arts in Minnesota gets coopted by rich organizations of an, at best, nebulous artistic nature. This includes greedy history centers, a zoo, a public television station, and a juggernaut public radio empire (all of whom, unlike true arts organizations, have armies of lobbyists at their disposal).

Then, it is announced, some of the nation’s leading artistic organizations are announcing bad news. Many of these venerable institutions — the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and other key components of the culture industry in New York City — lost between 30 and 50 percent on the value of their endowments in 2008. The main reason? Overly agressive investment strategies:

Endowment asset allocations [in recent years] moved away from the safety of fixed-income instruments, such as high-grade bond funds, to the volatility of domestic and foreign equities and even to “alternative investments,” such as distressed debt and venture-capital equity. This investment strategy paid luxuriantly during the good times, resulting in bloated budgets and massive expansions. Yet with only quarterly meetings, arts boards proved too slow to navigate away from the hazardous investments once the bad times began. In short, arts organizations adopted bad habits.

An article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, published in the wake of Brandeis University’s sell-off of the Rose Art Museum, details the effect the bad economy is having on campus support of art programs.

Without Change, Campus Arts Programs Could Risk Their Survival


By Brad Wolverton

Buried in the recent news about big endowment losses and the steps colleges are taking to weather the economic crisis is an emerging pattern: Culture, it would seem, is expendable.

First came Brandeis University’s decision to close its art museum and sell off more than 6,000 works in its collection. Then Miami University, in Ohio, and Texas Tech moved to sell or shutter their radio stations. Now Utah State University may stop its academic press.

Even Bowdoin College, a longtime supporter of the arts, which completed a $20-million renovation of its art museum in 2007, recently said it may dump its big-band jazz ensemble.

Some of that may just be skimming the fat. But faced with increasing costs and shrinking government support, more institutions may do what was once unthinkable: cut entire academic programs.

That prospect hung over a group of college presidents gathered here last week for the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Mary Pat Seurkamp, president of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, summed up the mood this way: “Some people are saying, ‘We know our mission and we love the liberal arts. But you don’t have to have all of them.’”

The recession is intensifying administrators’ scrutiny of underperforming majors, leading to tough questions: Are those majors helping to drive enrollment and revenue? Do they have a vocal or wealthy constituency? If not, maybe they should go.

“It’s a bad stew,” says Harriet Zuckerman, a senior vice president at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, one of the biggest supporters of the arts and humanities on campuses. “These are episodic symptoms of what is likely to become a more serious problem.”

As the economic downturn has deepened, colleges have demonstrated a swiftness for shedding programs whose goals have not been aligned with core missions.

Art experts say that may help explain the fall of the Rose Art Museum, at Brandeis….

I’ve been reading and writing about Canada’s ongoing national back-turning on its artists of late, which apparently is a huge subject up there because it keeps coming up of late. This most recent story, from the Oct. 11 Globe and Mail, is interesting because it discusses an arts event that was highly praised in Canada—the recent triumphant visit of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to a sold-out Carnegie Hall—and describes how impossible it is, in our modern business-oriented economy, for an arts org to be deemed a success. “…the tour was an artistic and critical success,” writes Simon Houpt, “[but] those viewing it simply through a prism of profit and loss would call it a failure: The performance fee paid by Carnegie Hall didn’t come close to covering even half of the orchestra’s $466,000-plus costs.”

The author then looks closely at the upcoming budget for Volcano, a Toronto-based theatre company, which took the unusual step of opening its books to The Globe and Mail, and examines point-by-point how what people are willing to pay for art is vastly outstripped by the expenses incurred in mounting arts programming. The problem with art has long been noted by economists: The cost for the products of our economy become ever more based on the efficiencies associated with mechanization and mass production, so that a product like art that is impossible to make more efficiently (a painting will always take so long to make, a symphony always will involve so many producers) are regarded as too expensive to support in relation to cheaply reproduced good and entertainment (crappy cable TV, for instance). The arguments that people make against arts funding fail to take into account the simple human costs for art.

It’s interesting too to have read this story from the past weekend, from my own formerly artistically “enlightened” northern home state of Minnesota, just south of Canada’s southern border, about the impending doom facing pretty much all of our former artistic treasures. Art funders here, according to the story’s author Mary Abbe, are “bracing for rocky times.” Major arts orgs like the “Minnesota Orchestra, Guthrie Theater, Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts,” who are seeing their endowments rapidly shrink, are “braced for the worst.” At the end she quotes Jacques Brunswick, chief administrative officer of the Guthrie Theater, as he makes an (unconvincing) appeal: “It’s a rough time. I think the arts need people’s money now more than ever.”

And in response (in the Strib’s comments)?

Time to get back to the basics

When many are faced with homelessness, hunger and a lack of health care, it is time to get back to the basics. We have to pay off massive governmental and consumer debt that is strangling the country before we can make much progress. Also, we need to ensure our kids and even adults are getting adequate scientific and technical training so we can compete again in the global market. Given all this, the upcoming decides need to focus on basics rather than arts.

posted by rebeccalhoover on Oct 11, 08 at 7:29 pm |

CTV’s website recently the following story, which provoked some interesting and telling comments (below):

Some Calgary artists played dead on Monday to try to raise awareness about cuts to national funding for the arts.

Protestors gathered at City Hall to say that Canada’s arts and cultural scene is on its deathbed.

The federal government recently cut 45 million dollars of funding and the artists say they already struggle to make a living and they worry it’ll get even worse if the Conservatives win a majority government.

The protesters want people to save the arts and vote for any party but the Tories.

Local theatre director Jamie Dunsdon says the conservatives have undermined the value of the arts in the community.

“I think it’s because we have politicians like Mr. Harper telling us that we don’t value arts which isn’t true, every day citizens do value arts. It’s on the walls of our dentists’ office, it’s on the radio. We do value arts, we just need the funding and we need politicians to recognize that we need the funding and the support,” said Dunsdon.

The Conservatives say they’ve boosted arts funding since coming into office.

They also say they’ve simply shifted some of that money into other programs, including sports and recreation.

SAMPLE COMMENTS:

Claudia.
When people are loosing their houses etc. it would be irresponsible for the Feds to put more money into the ‘arts’. Get real! Who else should the government bail out?


Glenda Bowser
I think the arts have survived very well on the backs of taxes payer. If they are starving I suggest they get a job like the rest of us,


Liz
Totally agree with the cuts - an elite group with attitude - what about extra funding for the underemployed,the wait staff, the retail clerks - everyone cud benefit from a hand-out. What makes the arts group so special!!! - talent - if they had any, they would not have to beg.


Pete
Lets see, a cut of less than 2% to the total arts funding. If thats catastrophic then these people have much more to worry about in the current financial climate when other people are trying to keep their real jobs that pay taxes and support these “artists”. Gravy train is over folks


Angelo
I always figured being an artist was a side job, since when am I, as a taxpayer paying for “art” that I wouldn’t pay to see anyway? Put down the paint set and pick up a hammer!


Michelle
I would rather my tax dollars go to HEALTH CARE, than some starving artist. While listening to them cry on the news about how they can barely survive now, I could not help but think…”Get a real job then!!!”


Davey boy
If that’s the best artists can come up with. Then please take there funding away


Sue - Calgary
I think people in the arts community should wake up and get a real job instead of perfoming meaningless plays that no one understands. I think our tax dollars can be better spent elsewhere.


Jane - A Calgary Taxpayer who is struggling
Well, if the artists were any good at what they do, they would make a good living at it in the free market. If they cannot support themselves, perhaps they could get real jobs like the rest of us! Welcome to the real world! If I like art, I will buy it or see it, otherwise, I am not going to pay for it. I am a good gardener, but the government does not support my hobby. Why would I, who am struggling to make ends meet, have to pay tax dollars to the arts? Funny how the artists have time to play dead, on a work day. I am at work. Making a living. Maybe they could try it instead of complaining and protesting.

An article in the National Post of Canada, titled “The working man’s case for arts funding,” reveals some exciting news from that quiet country to the North: Canada has, politically speaking, finally reached the 1990s. Canada has at long last discovered the great golden age of the American “Culture Wars.”

According to the story’s author, John Moore:

(Prime Minister) Stephen Harper’s campaign has been all about easy points. Teens with guns; lock ‘em up. Average families (we all think we’re average); give ‘em a tax cut. Arts funding; let the sushi-eating, bow-tie-wearing snobs pay for their own meat dresses and urine-soaked crucifixes. Earlier this week, the PM took a gratuitous swipe at the arts, cleverly widening the perceived divide between “ordinary working people” and the “elites” who make their living in creative endeavours.

Ah, such warm and gentle memories this evokes in my hardened art-loving heart. Jesse Helms. The NEA Five. Piss-Christ. Pat Buchanan. Rudy Giuliani. Oh, it’s so fun to demonize the arts and terrorize artists! So much fun!

The author continues with some good points (that puts some of the blame on the artists themselves):

It’s not easy to make a case for the arts, which is precisely why they are such a ripe target. And artists don’t make it any easier. Most Canadians don’t really have a warm and fuzzy impression of Wendy Crewson or Margaret Atwood. Outside of their books, sets and performance venues, artists have a frustrating inability to connect with anyone but each other.

No, it is not easy to clarify why the arts are important to protect, nurture, and support. I’ve tried to do this for years, and I sometimes feel I’m no closer to any answers than I’ve ever been. Moore, for his part, gives the examples of Cirque du Soleil, SCTV, and a full host of Canadian art stars — all of whom received small token amounts of important governmental support when they were struggling to get established. Without such support, he suggests, these institutions that have entertained and thrilled so many people would simply not have been able to survive and thrive.  Because of this, he argues, small amounts of leg-up money from the government ultimately benefits all of us, not just some untouchable elite.

It’s a tough sell, no doubt. Good luck with your wars, Canada. Having been there-done that, I don’t envy you. At the very least, however, I can say in all sincerity: “Welcome to the 90s!”

I finished Bill Ivey’s Art Inc. last week, after a long, drawn-out battle with the text. Part of the challenge was my personal circumstances — as I was changing day jobs — but another part of it was the denseness of the text. It helped that I wenty away last week to my wife’s family’s fabulous(ly quiet) cabin, and, with loon’s crying in the background, I was able to kick up the feet without distraction for a change and finish the book. (I didn’t log in once — which, of course, explains the brief CAFA hiatus…)

I’m still somewhat processing the data, information, and suggestions of Ivey in relation to “how greed and neglect have destroyed our cultural rights,” and I am currently pondering writing something more extensive about the book in future weeks—perhaps connecting this text to a book someone bequethed to me, ironically enough, just before I left my previous job: John Frohnmayer’s Leaving Town Alive. But for now I’ll just post a few quotations I found interesting and insightful from Art Inc., and encourage you all to read this intriguing, timely, and important book (note: Ivey’s take on Ronald Reagan, referenced briefly below, actually somewhat changed my view of this president, of whom I’d never had a very positive opinion):

  • “…since the 1960s our cultural policy has pretty much been about bringing more fine art to the American people. Increasing supply made sense in 1960, but this single-minded agenda has made it too easy for self-declared arts leaders to avoid engaging the breadth of America’s unique cultural system, focusing instead on a couple of narrow issues — arts education and expanded funding for nonprofits.”
  • “Back when I was a sophomore living on the third floor of the University of Michigan’s first coed dorm, I asked an artist friend who lived down the hall what his parents thought about his choice of career. I’ve never forgotten his answer: ‘Every family wants a Picasso hanging on the wall, but no family wants one standing in the living room.’ He’d hit the nail on the head; we Americans love — even worship — our artists from afar, but once the curtain comes down or, as Bob Dylan says, ‘the gallery lights dim,’ we’re just as happy if they quietly leave the stage. Americans don’t take artists very seriously.”
  • “One sign of our lack of respect for artists is the persistence of evidence that artists have too much trouble piecing together an income for an appropriate level of long-term material well-being; another sign is the difficulty Americans have accommodating the special vision, knowledge, and insight of artists as leaders in public life. After all, we’ve only elected one real artist to high office, actor Ronald Reagan, and his artistic pedigree discomfited his supporters…”
  • “If, as Freud argued, maturity is measured by the capacity of an individual to hold contradictory ideas at the same time, then the maturity of a society can be judged by it ability to simultaneously honor multiple aesthetics. Our individual expressive lives are enriched as we take in more examples of the nature of the human predicament and as we experience different approaches to the representation of cultural values and different attempts to convey universal truths.”
  • “Back when I was chairman of the NEA, I made a point of handing a dollar to every street entertainer I passed. ‘It’s my job,’ I’d half-joke with friends. ‘I’m the head of the U.S. agency that makes grants in the arts; this is the least I can do.’”
  • “Today, inflation-adjusted funding by state, local, and federal arts agencies is less than in 1992, and arts grants as a percentage of total foundation giving have also declined; foundation giving to the arts actually decreased slightly in 2006. Finally, as Americans for the Arts recently reported, modest recent gains in overall giving to culture disguise the fact that the percentage of overall philanthropy devoted to the nonprofit arts — the sector’s ‘market share’ of all giving — has declined by nearly one-third since the early 1990s.”
  • “As media scholar Philip Napoli observes, cultural policy ‘has never resonated or developed in the policymaking sector as an explicitly defined and institutionalized field of government activity.’ We’ve paid a price: public policy in matters of culture has been poorly aimed, limited in scope, and astoundingly tolerant of incoherence and unintended consequences. And the absence of public-interest priorities in intellectual property law, trade in cultural goods, creative education, and access to heritage has allowed an unrestrained marketplace to cobble together an arts scene that serves narrow commercial interests.”
  • “… at some point public policy must take on the challenge of leveling out or even turning back the relentless growth in the size of the nonprofit sector; a healthy twenty-first-century nonprofit arts system may require some culling, especially among unendowed midsized operations. Today the challenge for nonprofits is not to expand seasonal offerings or build new arts centers but rather to facilitate the downsizing or even the graceful demise of some institutions on the edge of survival in order to free up resources to allow stronger museums, orchestras, and dance companies to exercise greater creativity.”

(** = Bullet Points of Failure)

Having been away all this past week at a remote and top-secret rural retreat (no email, no cell phone, no Internet — ahhh!), imagine my chagrin at coming back home to find my local community on fire like Atlanta — at least as far as local artistic failure is concerned.

To clarify what I mean, here are a few bullet points:

  • As you will recall from reading CAFA, I have reported on multiple local defections, failures, and collapses of arts administrators and organizations in recent months. Just to give a recap, in the past 2-3 years, prior to this past week that is, Minneapolis has seen the loss of three directors of two major arts institutions, the defection of a State Arts Board director after only one year, and the removal or resignation of five-six major curators at top arts institutions. It has seen the collapse of one major artist-member crafts organization (the Minnesota Crafts Council), the near-implosion of Minnesota Film Arts (which mounts the Mpls-St. Paul International Film Festival), the collapse of a regional Tony-Award winning theater, and the near-failure and rumored impending collapse of countless mid-sized arts organizations. (Rumors that are so common that it doesn’t seem right to pass them on, lest it keeps said orgs from rebounding. Just as an example, however, I will mention that this organization is emblematic; after failing to pay rent for three months this fall/winter, its director resigned and 3/4 of its staff was let go, and thus far no replacement has been hired.)
  • As if that all isn’t enough, on July 16, the board of the Southern Theater in Minneapolis — a venue that presents works by local and national performance groups in town — announced it was placing its long-time (30+-year veteran) Artistic Director Jeff Bartlett on “indefinite leave.” By July 17, public responses to this news had come from a coterie of interested citizen/artists and from a long-time writer on dance in Minneapolis. The immediacy and intensity of the response from the public resulted in, on July 18, a response from the Southern Theater’s board, which cited the need to deal with “a huge financial deficit, a building badly in need of repair, faulty and problematic accounting practices, personnel issues, low staff morale, and complaints from artists” and the resulting need to restructure the organization.
  • Finally (finally!), a press release came across my desk on July 18 announcing the resignation, after eleven years, of Minnesota Museum of American Art executive director Bruce A. Lilly.

I can’t think of anything else to say at this point, other than to quote the words of Henry Longfellow: “All things must change to something new, to something strange.” Be brave, Minnesota, this will all pass.

Attached below is a piece, recently published on mnartists.org, that describes a public forum I attended on “The State of the Arts in Minneapolis.” In the essay, I attempt to dig a bit further beyond the usual propagandistic platitudes and oft-repeated old saws about art here in frozen Minnesota to examine what things are really like for artists and small art organizations here.

 

COMMENTARY: What is the State of the Arts in Minneapolis?

Commentary by Michael Fallon

Or, “The Future’s So Bright, You Gotta Wear Blinders:” arts administrator and critic Michael Fallon comments on the recent panel discussion about the state of arts in Mpls and makes a case for candor in our civic conversation on the subject
On the evening of June 12, the Minneapolis Arts Commission, “a volunteer body that oversees the city’s public art and promotion of the arts,” invited a panel of arts leaders (from a handful of the city’s most influential arts organizations) to participate in a discussion at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts with the aim of taking stock of “the current state of arts in Minneapolis, and how to move it forward?” The commission’s website describes the night’s agenda as follows: “Minneapolis has enjoyed an arts explosion in the last few years, but how do we use that momentum and continue to build Minneapolis’ reputation as a leader on the national arts scene?” mnartists.org asked arts administrator and critic Michael Fallon to attend the event and report back with his impressions on the evening’s conversation.

IF YOU HAPPENED TO MISS THE FIRST FIFTEEN MINUTES of the recent panel discussion on “Minneapolis’ artistic future,” sponsored by the Minneapolis Arts Commission, you didn’t miss much. In what best can be described as an excruciating exercise of intensive local arts spin, early attendees to the event were treated to a host of thought-terminating clichés from Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson and from representatives of the Walker Art Center, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Minnesota Orchestra, Loft Literary Center, Guthrie Theater, and McKnight Foundation.

Just to give a taste, the event began with a vague (somewhat desperate-sounding) appeal from Johnson to the scattered 65 or 70 audience members: “Please know the city views the arts as an essential part and great promoter of our community.” The panelists then unanimously echoed their convictions about the significance of the local arts community. “We’re in great shape,” said Jennifer Komar Olivarez, an associate curator at the MIA (filling in for the previously planned speaker, the Institute’s new director Kaywin Feldman). “Compared to other cities, Minneapolis is very impressive in terms of art,” agreed Philippe Vergne, chief curator at the Walker Art Center. And thus followed a succession of many of the same, shop-worn old saws that local arts advocates are prone to tossing off (usually without supporting statistical proof) when asked about the arts here. This is just a sampling of the glib, oft-repeated claims that were reiterated in the night’s opening remarks: Minneapolis is the “most literate city in America,” has the “most theater tickets sold per capita outside of Broadway” and the “widest array of artist service organizations in the country,” not to mention the “deepest sources of philanthropic support of the arts anywhere.”

It would be a fine thing if the vaunted art-city status that Minneapolis grants itself were provably true, and if the lip-service served up regarding support for local arts actually had the solid basis in fact that people claim. Unfortunately, the truth, as it can be empirically shown, is less sunshiny than I’m guessing any of the evening’s panelists are willing to admit. Minneapolis—unlike many cities around the country (including its neighbor, Saint Paul) and, notably, unlike most other cities with a reputation for arts friendliness—actually provides little practical support to the arts. Minneapolis offers almost no city funding to arts organizations and artists (beyond the requisite occasional public art project) and has no staff dedicated to overseeing arts development or planning. But, as was not the case with the optimistic spin offered up at the recent panel discussion, you don’t have to take my word for it. This bleak assessment of the lack of practical arts support by the city of Minneapolis actually comes from scholar and economist Ann Markusen, author of a national study investigating how various cities support the arts. Here’s what Markusen uncovered about Minneapolis in her 2006 paper, “Cultural Planning and the Creative City”:

In Minneapolis … the City Council abolished its Department of
Cultural Affairs in the 1990s, leaving only a small Office of Cultural
Affairs with responsibility for public art and publicly supported arts
programming, moved under the umbrella Community Planning and
Economic Development Department. There is also a separate City of
Minneapolis Arts Commission, but it has few powers and little
political clout, and is in general ignored by the more powerful arts
institutions in the City [this has important ramifications, as explained
below]. Cultural affairs departments and offices have suffered
relative resource losses in recent decades as taxpayer revolts and
higher priority placed on everything from public safety to
economic development have squeezed their shares of the public purse.

Markusen further explodes the myth of Minneapolis’ abundant arts support through a point-by-point comparison of urban arts policies around the nation. As opposed to the other, more truly arts-friendly cities—Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, and several others—revealed by Markusen’s research, Minneapolis has no dedicated arts funds to support local arts activities, no central planning mechanism or agency to manage arts development activities around the city or region, and there is little sympathy for the arts reflected in urban planning and economic development initiatives. It’s telling that, unlike what you’ll find in some cities, for the City of Minneapolis, cultural policy has little standing. There are few formal avenues for interaction between arts organizations or artists and city planning departments with regard to the management of land use or the city’s zoning laws, which do not permit the mixing of commercial and residential use. Such restrictive policies about urban zoning make it needlessly difficult for artists and small organizations to survive in the region; specifically, these sorts of policies tend, over time, to foil artists’ and small arts organizations’ attempts to create affordable live/work spaces. Further, Markusen explains, in Minneapolis, it appears that “larger arts and cultural institutions have garnered the lion’s share of city commitments in terms of land, parking garages, and support from state bonding funds.” Generally, allocating such a large proportion of civic resources to a few big arts institutions further leaves small organizations, neighborhood arts centers, and individual artists out in the cold. (It is important to point out here that the bulk of the panelists work for just such large organizations which have been among the few beneficiaries of the city’s narrow arts policies, and that may help explain their allegiance to the group-think about local arts.)

If you are beginning to feel your blood pressure rise upon reading all of this, you will begin to get a sense of how I was feeling after the first round of statements by the panel. Fortunately for my health and yours, however, it was at that precise moment that the panel moderator, Fox 9 news anchor Robyne Robinson, stepped in to begin directing panelists toward a more measured assessment and constructive discussion about how the city is doing regarding the arts. “We can sit here and repeat over and over how great things are,” Robinson said, “but then you hear these constant complaints from artists. If things are great, why is the discontent there? Do we just have too many artists and are unable to feed everyone?”

McKnight Foundation program director for the arts, Vickie Benson’s response to this question—voicing her particular concern about the well-being of individual artists locally—represented the first genuine moment of the night, and her remarks elicited an outburst of loud applause from the audience. “We can’t forget,” Benson said, “about the artists who live with poverty, who have no health insurance, and who face a lack of retirement money. We can’t forget about the artists who bring so much vibrancy to our community.”

Other panelists, at first, weren’t quite so willing to immediately validate the local artists’ disgruntlement. “We cannot please everybody,” said Philippe Vergne, slightly testily. “We make choices and, by nature, this is discriminating. Discontent of this sort is not just present in Minneapolis. It happens in L.A., it happens in New York. It is in the nature of what we do.… Desire is important. We need desire or art dies.” Jennifer Komar Olivarez of the MIA agreed: “If you look at the broader picture, our role is to set a certain standard, a bar for local artists to aspire to. We can’t be everything to everybody.” Still, Robinson, to her credit, persisted in asking about the city’s role in supporting smaller organizations and individual artists. She kept dancing around this point throughout the next hour or so of discussion, digging for a more human, more specific response, asking for panelists’ assessments of the current state of affairs which might go beyond feel-good spin. And, as a result, over the course of the evening the discussion grew increasingly realistic about the state of the arts in Minneapolis and about its immediate prospects in the current times and near future.

In short order, Robinson asked whether there were inflated expectations for large Minneapolis arts organizations as a consequence of the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of expansion many of them have undergone in the past five years. (Some panelists admitted there has, indeed, been some tension and growing pains in the wake of recent redevelopment.) Robinson also asked about the potential for large locally-based businesses—which have given tons of corporate money to support these expansions—to exert undue influence on arts programming at the organizations on the receiving end of their largesse. (Most panelists sidestepped the question, instead arguing about the relative merits of “blockbuster” shows. I feel compelled to point out here that I suggested evidence of such corporate influence on arts programming was already beginning to emerge in an essay I wrote more than two years ago.) Robinson—again, to her credit—pressed the point, asking if the panelists’ organizations ever worry about “selling out” in the wake of their recent expansions (which the panelists again, for the most part, side-stepped). Then, she followed up with a question about whether the small organizations in town have suffered from competition with the large institutions (ole!).

As the discussion progressed toward its conclusion, and these expert panelists became less and less able to answer the hard questions about the struggles of the larger art community in Minneapolis, I could tell that Robinson was beginning to circle the truth. When she asked about the financial challenges facing the arts community in the current economy and, specifically, about whether the big organizations had contingency plans to deal with the difficult fiscal realities of the times, the panelists all—to a person—gave grudging nods. “We talk a lot about it,” admitted Vergne. “It’s a very constraining moment…. We’ve been much fatter in the past, but at the moment we are on Weight Watchers.” The other panelists spoke about the various ways that their organizations have been readjusting their activities to cope with declining support and increased costs, even as they grapple with the high expectations that a tapped art public has for these highly visible (and expensive) institutions. Then Vergne continued: “We have to change the way we operate and change our rules of engagement. If we don’t, we become dinosaurs and die.”

And so, the curtain had at last been lifted, revealing a reality beyond our blind faith in the region’s art supremacy. Now, perhaps, a real discussion can begin.

Addendum re: Minneapolis’ Failing Arts Future (June 24): The New York Times noted today that the Dia Foundation has announced the hiring of noted Minneapolis arts booster Philippe Vergne to take over directorship of the struggling foundation. Vergne’s departure marks the fifth high-profile Minneapolis arts leader to leave the city within the past year. Others include former Walker director Kathy Halbreich and chief curator Richard Flood, state arts board director Tom Proehl, and Minneapolis Institute of Arts director William Griswold.