Category: Barack Obama

Mitt Romney would cut federal cultural agencies by half

November 10, 2011 |  2:23 pm

Mitt Romney and Rick Perry during an October debate
In the race for the Republican presidential nomination, critics of Mitt Romney have complained that conservative stances he’s taking now contradict his policies as Massachusetts governor from 2003 through 2006. But when it comes to cultural funding, the differences are a matter of degree rather than a sharp reversal.

Earlier this month, candidate Romney (pictured at left, above, while debating opponent Rick Perry) targeted two federal arts and cultural grantmaking agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, for “deep reductions.”

In an op-ed piece in USA Today, Romney said he would “eliminate every government program that is not absolutely essential [because] the federal government should stop doing things we don’t need or can’t afford,” then gave five examples. Four examples clearly cited programs or funding categories to be eliminated;  the fifth was “enact deep reductions in the subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation.”

We asked the Romney campaign for clarification — does he want to eliminate cultural grantmaking or reduce it? The response was that he doesn’t want to eliminate the NEA, NEH or the two other agencies but would cut their aggregate funding by half. The NEA and NEH now receive $155 million per year each — among the smallest agency appropriations in the federal budget. Earlier this year, a majority of Republican House members called for eliminating them.

As Massachusetts governor, Romney tried to restrain but not eliminate arts spending. He did not succeed: The state Legislature voted additional money each year, lifting the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s budget from $7.3 million to $12.1 million during his term. Romney’s own proposals had called for keeping the arts budget at $7.3 million — the funding level when he took office.

The most important arts legislation during Romney’s tenure was the 2006 creation of a Cultural Facilities Fund, which provides for annual grants to help nonprofit arts, historical and scientific organizations pay for construction projects. Romney vetoed the fund, but the Legislature overrode him. Since then, the state has granted $37 million under the program, according to Greg Liakos, spokesman for the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

Presidential candidate Rick Perry’s hand on the cultural purse strings as governor of Texas since 2001 is harder to judge, because under the Texas system the governor has little authority over the budget. Texas budgeting takes place not annually but in two-year chunks, and Perry’s tenure has seen the budget for the Texas Commission on the Arts trend consistently downward, from $8.7 million in 2002 to $3.9 million for 2012.

In February, Perry said in his state of the state address that cultural spending was a luxury Texas couldn’t afford, given its projected $27-billion deficit: “Let’s suspend non-mission-critical entities like the Historical Commission or the Commission on the Arts until the economy improves.”

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Obama proclaims arts and humanities month with populist theme

October 3, 2011 |  7:05 pm

Norman Rockwell The Problem We All Live With
As the 2012 election season nears, political pundits of various persuasions have lately been noting the strong populist streak emerging in President Obama's recent public presentations. Now, add Monday's White House proclamation naming October as National Arts and Humanities Month.

"Norman Rockwell's magazine covers are classic and recognizable portrayals of American life," the proclamation begins, going on to describe a famous 1963 Rockwell depiction of 6-year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted into a recently desegregated school by U.S. marshals, a racist epithet scrawled on the wall behind her amid blood-like splatters of thrown tomatoes. The image was originally published as a 1964 centerfold in Look magazine. "Like Rockwell's painting, art in all its forms often challenges us to consider new perspectives and to rethink how we see the world," the proclamation continues.

The choice of Rockwell, America's favorite homespun illustrator, is a long way from the modern and contemporary art that the Obamas chose to hang in the White House in 2009. That art was widely noticed in the press for being artistically challenging. Similar to the recently installed Rockwell, enshrined not far from the Oval Office, paintings by Ed Ruscha, Susan Rothenberg and Mark Rothko were loaned for the residence.

So was Glenn Ligon's gritty 1992 “Black Like Me No. 2.” Layers of black oil-stick on white canvas recount a portion of John Howard Griffin’s controversial 1961 memoir, “Black Like Me,” in which a white author artificially darkened his skin to travel as a black man through the American South. Ligon's midcareer retrospective, "America," arrives at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Oct. 23.

You can read the entire White House proclamation here.

— Christopher Knight

Photo: Norman Rockwell, "The Problem We All Live With," 1963, oil on canvas. Credit: Norman Rockwell.

President Obama to use 'Sister Act' for fundraiser

June 23, 2011 | 12:51 pm


(Updated 2:12 p.m.)

President Obama has been an avid supporter of theater and the arts, but on Thursday night, theater will be supporting him with a special performance of Broadway's "Sister Act" that will be a fundraiser for his 2012 reelection campaign.

Ticket prices range from $100 to $10,000.

ViewSecurity is in place at the Broadway Theatre, home to "Sister Act," the musical based on the popular film that starred Whoopi Goldberg. On hand will be Goldberg, a supporter of Obama and a producer of the musical, which took a long journey from Pasadena via Atlanta and London before arriving on Broadway this spring.

Obama will show up for at least part of the performance, according to an official with the Democratic National Committee.

This wouldn't be the first time the president has seen a Broadway play since his election -- in 2009 he and First Lady Michelle Obama caught the revival of August Wilson's "Joe Turner’s Come and Gone" at Lincoln Center, drawing criticism from Republicans about the expense of his trip. The government will be covering a part of the travel expenses for this trip because it includes an address and visit with the troops at Ft. Drum in upstate New York. A DNC official said the Obama Victory Fund will reimburse travel to the fundraisers per federal regulations.

Obama's visit to New York is also scheduled to include a fundraising dinner that will court the gay, lesbian and transgender community, with Neil Patrick Harris and Jane Lynch on hand. Obama has not always been popular with that group given his history on gay marriage and "don't ask, don't tell." Ticket prices start at $1,250.

A third NYC fundraiser will be a dinner with Wall Street executives at a posh restaurant where ticket prices are set at $35,800 per person.

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Architecture: President Obama to speak at tonight's Pritzker Prize ceremony in Washington

June 2, 2011 |  2:20 pm


The winner of this year's Pritzker Prize, Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura, is not especially well known, even in design circles. But one guest at Thursday night's Pritzker ceremony in Washington qualifies as a bold-faced name in any context: Barack Obama.

The president will appear -- and speak -- at the event at the neoclassical Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium. First Lady Michelle Obama will also attend.

The reason for the president's attendance? Primarily his friendship with Penny Pritzker, a member of the Chicago family that funds the prize and who was also finance chairwoman of Obama's 2008 campaign.

Read my Critic's Notebook entry on Souto de Moura's Pritzker win and what it says about the shifting priorities of the Pritzker jury, and visit the official (and extensive) Pritzker site.

-- Christopher Hawthorne

Photo: Paula Rego Museum in Cascais, Portugal, by Eduardo Souto de Moura. Credit: Luis Ferreira Alves

White House report aims to boost arts education while LAUSD's programs face ax

May 10, 2011 |  7:42 pm

Hoping to reverse steep declines in arts education in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities has issued a report aimed at giving arts-education advocates better ammunition as they try to persuade school boards, legislators and philanthropists to stop treating the arts as a frill or an afterthought.

“Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools” offers model arts education programs that local districts can copy, and cites studies that indicate arts education helps students do better in other subjects. For the full story, click here.

The report is already being referenced in Los Angeles, where the teachers’ union has begun an arts-specific component of its bid to stem drastic across-the-board cuts. Anticipating a $408-million drop in state funding, the Los Angeles Board of Education has adopted what one member called a "doomsday budget."

The picture could brighten if the state budget's $15-billion deficit isn't eliminated solely with spending cuts -- Gov. Jerry Brown's plan calls for erasing it with a combination of cuts and a tax increase.

According to United Teachers Los Angeles,  the adopted district budget calls for slashing the arts instruction staff from 1,065 to 722 full- and part-time positions, a 32% reduction.  Elementary school students would bear the brunt, losing almost 60% of their arts instructors -- from 210 to 91. Secondary school arts staffing would drop 26%.

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Federal cultural-grants agencies to lose 11.2% of their funding under budget deal

April 14, 2011 |  6:45 am

WashingtonDCSkyline The three federal agencies devoted to making arts and cultural grants will take an 11.2% collective hit under the budget deal that institutes the largest spending cut in U.S. history.

The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services will be faced with reining in their grantmaking between now and Sept. 30, when the 2010-11 budget year ends. As for their spending in the coming fiscal year, that will depend on a budgeting process that is expected to turn into a titanic battle between Republicans who are calling for massive cuts and no tax increases,  and the Obama administration and its Democratic allies in congress, who want a combination of cuts and higher tax payments for high-income earners.

The NEA and NEH each will take a $12.5-million cut this year, from $167.5 million to $155 million -– a 7.5% reduction. Spending at the IMLS will decrease from $282.2 million to $237.9 million, a drop of 15.7%.

IMLS spokeswoman Mamie Bittner said Wednesday that the agency has been “very cautious on spending” since October, when the current fiscal year began, knowing that its allocation was not written in stone because Congress had failed to pass a 2010-11 budget. Instead, the federal government had operated under a “continuing resolution” that retained the previous year’s spending levels but was subject to change. The resolution was about to expire when the the deal calling for $38 billion in spending cuts was reached, averting a possible government shutdown.

One of the questions to be decided now, Bittner said, is how to balance quantity and heft -– should the IMLS help as many recipients as it did before, allocating smaller average grants to each? Or should it keep grants as large as before, but issue fewer to implement the $44.3 million in budget cuts?

NEA spokeswoman Victoria Hutter said her agency wouldn’t comment until the president signs the budget bill into effect.

The National Gallery of Art saw its $111-million allocation reduced by $8 million, a 7.2% cut, and the State Department’s spending for “educational and cultural exchange programs” aimed at improving the nation’s foreign relations was reduced from $635 million to $600 million, a 5.5% cut.

The advocacy group Americans for the Arts issued a statement Tuesday saying it was “heartened” that cuts to the NEA and NEH were “more sensible and proportional” than the 26% reduction that House Republicans passed earlier this year, but which the Democratic-controlled Senate did not OK. Also, Americans for the Arts noted, an “Art in Education” program that had been in danger of elimination has survived, albeit with its budget reduced from $40 million to $25.5 million. While acknowledging current constraints, the group said, “the nation would be better with a more robust investment in nonprofit arts” than what’s left following the cuts.

Funding was not affected at the Smithsonian Institution, whose $761-million allocation is by far the largest federal investment in the arts and culture, or at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where this year's federal support for operations and renovations totals $36.8 million.


ObamaApr2011JimYoungReuters Obama unveils plan to cut deficit by $4 trillion

Obama budget proposal would slash 13.3% from cultural grantmakers while buoying D.C. arts institutions

$40 million for arts education threatened in federal budget fight

-- Mike Boehm

 Photo: Fourth of July fireworks near the U.S. Capitol and monuments. Credit: Capital Concerts and WETA, Washington.

Tim Robbins to speak for the arts in L.A. rally Wednesday against federal spending cuts

March 23, 2011 |  6:30 am

TimRobbinsCarolynCole2009 Tim Robbins is expected to state the case against cuts in federal cultural spending Wednesday in a downtown "Rally to Protect L.A.'s Recovery" that will protest proposed reductions totaling $60 billion that would impact a wide array of government programs and services.

Olga Garay, executive director of the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, said Tuesday that she is pleased that the arts, which make up a relatively meager slice of the federal budget, are going to be represented, and "having someone of Tim Robbins' stature be a spokesman is really meaningful."

Robbins, a film star and writer-director, is the founder and artistic director of the Actors' Gang theater in Culver City. He'll join elected officials and representatives of nonprofit organizations for the 2:30 p.m. event at Ed Roybal Plaza, 255 E. Temple St.

Organizers say L.A. would stand to lose up to $2 billion if cuts called for in a Republican-backed House of Representatives spending bill were to be enacted. The Senate, with its Democratic majority, rejected that plan and now the two branches of Congress and the Obama administration are trying to work out a mutually acceptable agreement.

Other stars prepping for close-ups as lobbyists are Alec Baldwin and Kerry Washington, who have been enlisted as participants in the April 5 Arts Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill, in which the arts community tries to make a case for federal arts funding.


WashingtonDCSkyline Obama budget proposal would slash 13.3% from cultural grantmakers

$40 million for arts education threatened in federal budget fight

House Republicans unveil plan to end federal arts and humanities agencies and aid to public broadcasting

Tim Robbins and the Actors' Gang seek to 'Break the Whip'

-- Mike Boehm

 Photo: Tim Robbins. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

$40 million for arts education threatened in federal budget fight

March 3, 2011 |  5:27 pm

Quincy Federal funding totaling $40 million for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ educational programs, arts education grants for the disabled and grants to train arts teachers are just some of the arts-related programs on the chopping block as Congress and the Obama administration wrangle over how much to cut the 2010-11 federal budget.

The cut was included Wednesday as President Obama signed a temporary budget resolution designed to keep the government operating through March 18 while the White House and congressional Democrats and Republicans continue talks to reach a final budget agreement.

The Kennedy Center’s spokesman, John Dow, said Thursday that cuts would total $16 million for the Kennedy Center and its affiliate, VSA (formerly Very Special Arts), which has a national and international scope in supporting arts learning for the disabled. VSA is part of the Kennedy family’s legacy, having been founded in 1974 by Joan Kennedy Smith, the last surviving sibling of John, Robert and Edward Kennedy.

Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, issued an alert Thursday calling for arts supporters to urge members of Congress to preserve the $40-million program, called Arts in Education.

Obama has proposed ending that program in his budget plan for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1; its elimination would be accelerated if Wednesday's stopgap budget measure takes effect for the rest of 2010-11.

According to the Education Department’s website, “similar activities” to the ones funded by Arts in Education would receive federal support under a new, wider-ranging program the president has proposed for 2011-12, called Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-rounded Education. It would offer $246 million in competitive grants for states and local school districts “to develop and expand innovative practices” in teaching a wide range of subjects, including arts, foreign languages, physical education, health education, environmental education, civics and government, history and geography, and economics and financial literacy.

Other federal cultural agencies face uncertainty in both the current-year and coming-year budget fights. The president has pegged the National Endowment for the Arts for a 13% cut in 2011-12, while a large group of congressional Republicans has targeted the NEA for elimination. 


WashingtonDCSkyline House Republicans unveil plans to end federal arts and humanities agencies and aid to public broadcasting

Obama budget proposal would cut 13.3% from cultural grantmakers

Americans for the Arts compiles National Arts Index, a cultural S&P 500


-- Mike Boehm

Photo: President Obama prepares to award Quincy Jones a National Medal of Arts on Wednesday. Credit: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

Monster Mash: Obama bestows National Medal of Arts; James Levine resigning from Boston Symphony

March 3, 2011 |  7:45 am


Executive recognition: President Obama honored 20 people Wednesday with the National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal. (ABC News)

Resigning: Conductor James Levine will step down as music director of the Boston Symphony as a result of ongoing health problems. (Wall Street Journal)

Pressure's on: Julie Taymor admits to feeling the heat on Broadway's "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." (The Wrap)

Visionary: Filmmaker and Monty Python veteran Terry Gilliam is set to direct Berlioz's "The Damnation of Faust" at the English National Opera. (Hollywood Reporter)

Not authentic: A representative for Banksy said the street artist was not responsible for a mural that appeared Friday on the wall of an Oceanside restaurant, Bull Taco. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

New job: David Sefton, who left his job at UCLA Live last year, will become the head of the Adelaide Festival in Australia. (Los Angeles Times)

Almost there: Renovations are nearing completion on Moscow's famed Bolshoi Theatre. (Agence France-Presse)

Dance piece: Twyla Tharp will create a new work for the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to premiere in October. (Chicago Tribune)

Honored: Katori Hall is the winner of the 2011 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for her play "Hurt Village." (Playbill)

Also in the L.A. Times: "American Idiot" will make its L.A. debut at the Ahmanson Theatre in March 2012; music critic Mark Swed reviews the Israel Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

-- David Ng

Photo: President Obama awards the 2010 National Medal of Arts to musician Van Cliburn during a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday. Credit: Jim Watson / AFP/Getty Images


Streep, James Taylor, Quincy Jones, Sonny Rollins, Van Cliburn, Philip Roth among national arts and humanities medalists

March 1, 2011 |  1:45 pm

MarkdiSuveroWallyJ.Skalij Actor Meryl Streep,  musicians Van Cliburn, Quincy Jones, Sonny Rollins and James Taylor and “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee are the household names among this year’s winners of the National Medal of Arts, a career-achievement award that President Obama will confer Wednesday in a ceremony at the White House.

Those known more to aficionados are Abstract Expressionist sculptor Mark di Suvero (pictured); Robert Brustein, the theater critic and producer who founded two leading New England stage companies, the Yale Repertory Theatre  and American Repertory Theatre; and Donald Hall, who was poet laureate in 2006-07. Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival in the rustic Berkshires of Western Massachusetts was honored as an arts institution.

Also announced were the National Humanities Medals, with authors Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates as the best-known names. Other honorees are poet/novelist/conservationist Wendell E. Berry;  publisher Daniel Aaron, founder of the Library of America; historians Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood; scholars Jacques Barzun of Columbia and Stanley Nider Katz of Princeton; literary critic Robert Gonzalez Echevarria;  and biographer and literary critic Arnold Rampersad.

Roth and Jones become double-dippers, the novelist having won the National Medal of Arts in 1998, while the composer-producer received the National Humanities Medal in 2000.

The National Endowment for the Arts manages the arts medals, while the National Endowment for the Humanities manages the humanities medals.

The White House said that Lee, Streep, Aaron and Barzun are not expected to attend the ceremony, which will be streamed live at 10:45 a.m. Pacific time at


SonnyRollinsEPAPietroCrocchioni Obama confers arts and humanities medals on big names, including Dylan and Eastwood

Jasper Johns is first studio artist in 34 years to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom


-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Mark di Suvero at L.A. Louver Gallery in 2008. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times


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