Friday, June 04, 2010

June Swoon for the Arts in Illinois and Elsewhere

I wish I could be happier in reviewing the state of arts advocacy over the past year, but the smiles are few and far between. In my home town our arts center still has not received its re-grant check from the Illinois Arts Council. That puts several other arts groups in our area, who had applied for assistance last November, in jeopardy. Meanwhile, despite a major campaign in May by numerous advocacy groups and individuals, our state legislators once again have gone home without dealing with the state’s overall budget crisis. They have left the arts, education, social services, and many other state programs in flux and disarray.

In the May 12th edition of the Americans for the Arts Bulletin six of the twenty stories chronicled new reductions in various state and local arts budgets across the country, while several other articles dealt with attempts to recover from earlier staff or funding cuts. Even more troubling are signs that charitable foundations, who are an important part of arts funding, are also cutting back staff as their capital assets shrink in the difficult financial climate.

It is some, if not great solace, that those active in the arts in Illinois are not alone in difficult financial straits. Let me give you three examples from around the country of problems that are facing our compatriots.

The city of New York is considering cuts of up to 40% in city funding of cultural institutions. The Public Theatre’s long standing “Free Shakespeare in Central Park” is one of the potential victims.

The Miami Herald reported on May 13th that “More than a third of Broward County’s about 70 middle and high schools will reduce their art, drama, or music offerings entirely.” This is occurring in spite of a 2008 study of 188,000 Florida students that showed those with four or more credits in art and music had higher grade-point averages, graduation rates and FCAT and SAT scores than their classmates."

The Salt Lake City Tribune reported on what is a true “Golden Vise” problem. They note an increase in the number of students participating in arts (theatre, dance, and music) activities while at the same time presiding over a diminishing of resources available to fund the activities. These kinds of ironies are made more heart rending when you consider that “according to a new survey of 1,500 chief executives conducted by IBM's Institute for Business Value, CEOs identify "creativity" as the most important leadership competency for the successful enterprise of the future.” You can read the full article from Business Week at:

Most of us in the theatre community have valued creativity highly, but the business community has never placed it at the center of their world view. That may be changing. Today’s accelerated and interconnected commercial models demand novel solutions, more agile applications, and the handling of multiple problems simultaneously. Doesn’t that sound like the kind of things that actors, directors, and technicians have been doing successfully for eons. Maybe it’s time for them to get with our programs!

Are you on the board of a small non-profit theatre or are you working or volunteering for one? A scary article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on June 1st warns about the potential loss of some nonprofit’s tax-exempt status this month. Congress apparently passed a law in 2006 to help the IRS keep better track of active organizations of all sizes. As part of the law, small organizations that never had to regularly file returns in the past (this generally means those with annual revenues of $25,000 or less) must now file a new online return, called a Form 990-N. If your group has not been filing these new forms in the past three years, your non-profit status may be in jeopardy. For more details see:

While we are on the subject of members of boards of directors of arts groups, you or your Executive Director might be interested in some of the Arts Alliance Illinois publications that are currently on sale. You can see the titles at

Right now about the only bright light on the horizon is an apparent increase in the number of volunteer hours being given to arts organizations, which is a bit of help as budgets to pay workers decrease. 

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