The California Arts Council is in jeopardy of losing its recently won ability to solicit donations via state income tax forms.
Beginning last year, filers could donate to the state’s chronically underfunded arts grant-making agency by checking off a box on their tax return, then adding the amount they wanted to contribute to their payment or subtracting it from their refund.
The arts council received $164,298 that way during 2011 -– not a negligible amount for an agency with a budget of only $5.2 million. Donations came from 16,580 taxpayers, for an average contribution of $9.91.
But the 2010 legislation that gave the arts council its checkoff box says it will disappear from future tax forms unless it generates at least $250,000 this year, then rises each subsequent year by at least the rate of inflation.
The early returns for 2012 are not encouraging. According to data on the Franchise Tax Board’s website, checkoff contributions totaled $25,820 in January and February, down from $26,112 a year ago. To keep its box, the arts council needs at least a 52% increase, not a marginal decline.
The Getty Research Institute landed a huge (literally) prize last year when it bought the Harald Szeemann Archive and Library -- one of the world’s leading private collections of books, pictures and documents concerning modern and contemporary art.
But with the trove compiled by Szeemann, a Swiss museum director and independent curator who died in 2005, came the enormous headache of organizing and cataloging more than 1,000 boxes of stuff. Laid end to end, the Getty said, the photographs, papers, correspondence and books would span more than eight football fields (end zones not included).
Even the world’s richest visual art institution would need help with a job like that –- and Uncle Sam is pitching in with a $230,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The grant, announced Wednesday as part of a $17-million funding round from the NEH, will allow the Getty to hire two full-time staffers to work on the archive for two years, said Andra Darlington, head of special collections cataloging. They're expected to catalog and write descriptions for about three football fields’ worth of the “most significant” elements, she said, including files Szeemann created on all his projects and on artists he worked with or thought were important. The equivalent of a table of contents will be posted online, so scholars can see what’s available -– but digitizing the archive isn’t on the immediate agenda.
Darlington notes that the 1,000 containers in which Szeemann kept his archive were all wine boxes. “When we were packing, we asked [Szeemann’s] widow and daughter if he consumed all the wine. They assured us he did not, although he liked wine.”
Separate from the NEH grant is work on an estimated 36,000 photographs from the collection and Szeemann’s 30,000 volume library; Darlington said the pictures should be sorted out and available to researchers by fall, and the books are gradually being catalogued and making their way onto shelves.
Overall, the NEH announced 208 grants totaling $17 million -– an average of about $82,000 each. California’s share was 16 grants totaling $1.4 million (placing it third nationally behind Massachusetts’ $2.9 million and New York’s $2.6 million).
A major exhibition on the American painter Thomas Hart Benton is in the pipeline at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art -- one that would dovetail very nicely with the new movie museum that could be part of LACMA’s campus by fall 2015, when the Benton show is tentatively scheduled to open.
The news of the Benton exhibition came Wednesday when the National Endowment for the Humanities announced its latest round of grants, including $40,000 to LACMA for the show's planning. The grant was modest -– less than half the average of $82,000 in a round that totaled $17 million and included much bigger ones for the Getty Research Institute, UCLA, USC and UC Santa Barbara.
But the show whose planning it will support is a biggie: “Benton, Hollywood and History,” co-organized by LACMA and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., will feature about 100 works, including 75 paintings and murals and 25 preparatory studies and drawings, plus a selection of Benton’s historical prints, illustrated books and never-exhibited ephemera and photographs.
A written description LACMA released after The Times inquired about the grant says the show “will be the first exhibition to examine the visual strategies that Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) pursued to become the preeminent history painter of 20th century America, and the ways those strategies intersected… with the strategies of Hollywood, America’s paramount myth-making machine.”
Does star power matter on Capitol Hill?
Well, here’s something to ponder: Last April 5, Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey were scheduled to address a House appropriations hearing as part of the annual Arts Advocacy Day organized by Americans for the Arts, which spearheads the arts-lobbying effort in Washington.
Their appearance got canceled, and congressional ears missed the two actors’ pitches for averting the 12.6% budget cut that President Obama was then proposing for the National Endowment for the Arts.
Three days later, congressional leaders struck a temporary budget deal that reduced NEA funding by 7.5%. Then, when Congress got around to passing the 2011-12 federal budget, it deepened the cut to 12.7%. The NEA was left with $146.2 million to spend, down from the $167.5 it had commanded when the year began.
It’s debatable whether star-powered oratory really would have helped -- 2011, you’ll recall, was a year in which Washington was consumed by a near-impasse over how much to cut the federal deficit, prompting fears that the government might shut down entirely.
Now it’s time to deliberate on a budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, and Americans for the Arts is again bringing star power to bear, in hopes of securing a modest recovery for the nation's arts grantmaking agency. On Thursday, actor Stanley Tucci (pictured in "Hunger Games" with its star, Jennifer Lawrence) and Americans for the Arts President Robert Lynch are scheduled to address the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior. The goal, says Americans for the Arts, is to raise the NEA’s budget to $155 million -- a 6% increase that would be slightly more than the $154.3 million that Obama recently proposed.
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What does California have less of than nearly every other state in the union? Per capita spending money for state-funded arts grants.
And what does it have more of? Cars and stars.
Now the California Arts Council, the grant-making agency whose funding (currently 13 cents per capita) had landed it in last place nationally for eight consecutive years before Kansas saved it from the cellar this year by stopping all arts spending, aims to harness the Golden State's bounty of celebrities and motorists in hopes of relieving its dearth of arts grants.
Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, came to Watts and neighboring Willowbrook on Thursday for walking tours and briefings on how $720,000 in grants funded or coordinated by the NEA is being spent.
The money was generated by Our Town and ArtPlace, two programs begun under Landesman that aim to use the arts as a tool for neighborhood improvement and fostering economic growth.
But a major new California state policy works at cross-purposes to what Landesman is trying to accomplish on a federal level. From the late 1960s on, municipal redevelopment agencies in the state often funded arts and cultural projects on the same theory that guides Our Town and ArtPlace -- that in addition to their aesthetic and educational value, arts attractions foster tourism, an engaged and active citizenry, and economic growth.
Those efforts ended on Feb. 1, when California's redevelopment agencies, which were created to fight urban blight and promote economic activity, ceased to exist. Driven by the budget crises lingering over Sacramento and municipalities, and questioning the efficacy of redevelopment spending, Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature abolished the agencies so that billions of dollars in property taxes they'd controlled could be diverted to other government purposes.
More than $350 million in arts projects have been funded by redevelopment agencies in Los Angeles County over the past 45 years, including construction of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Grand Avenue headquarters ($23 million) and the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts ($60 million).
President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget, released Monday, calls for a 5% increase in spending for three cultural grantmaking agencies and three Washington, D.C., arts institutions.
Obama aims to boost outlays from $1.501 billion to $1.576 billion, encompassing the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities (NEA and NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Smithsonian Institution, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the National Gallery of Art.
The arts and humanities endowments each would get a 5.5% boost, to $154.255 million -- nearly restoring cuts announced in December. But if Congress approves the president’s proposal for the fiscal year that begins in October 2012, the NEA and NEH will still be well short of the $167.5 million each was set to receive before two separate rounds of cuts instigated by Congressional Republicans during 2011.
Obama is proposing $231.9 million for IMLS, a $439,000 reduction.
The Smithsonian Institution, by far the heavy hitter of federal cultural spending, would receive $856.8 million -- a 3.7% hike for its operating budget, which would rise to $660.3 million, and a 12.3% increase in capital expenditures, to $196.5 million. The biggest capital expense would be $85 million, to continue construction on the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Actor Al Pacino, pianist Andre Watts, visual artists Will Barnet and Martin Puryear and art philanthropist Emily Rauh Pulitzer are among the winners of the 2011 National Medal of Arts, to be bestowed Monday by President Obama in a ceremony at the White House.
Also announced Friday were winners of the National Humanities Medal -- including classical music scholar Charles Rosen.
The ceremonies will be streamed live Monday at 10:45 a.m. (Pacific) on the White House website.
Pacino, famed for wide-ranging film and stage roles that include the sympathetic gay bank robber of “Dog Day Afternoon,” mob boss Michael Corleone in “The Godfather” trilogy, and Shakespeare’s Shylock and King Richard III, is being cited for his “signature intensity” and as “an enduring and iconic figure, who came of age in one of the most exciting decades of American cinema, the 1970s.”
Watts, who is not expected to attend the ceremony, according to the White House, is being recognized as “a perennial favorite with the most celebrated orchestras and conductors around the world,” his performances marked by “superb technique and passionate intensity.”
Barnet, a New York City painter and printmaker who turned 100 last year, was cited for “nuanced and graceful depictions of family and personal scenes” that are “meticulously constructed of flat planes that reveal a lifelong exploration of abstraction, expressionism and geometry.”
A lost archive of military telegrams from the Civil War, in which Abraham Lincoln and his generals gave orders, relayed information, celebrated victories and aired grievances, has been added to the collection of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.
The 76 volumes -– pictured here on a cart in the Huntington’s Munger Research Center, with library director David Zeidberg sitting nearby –- include dozens of ledgers in which telegraph operators transcribed coded messages, and calfskin-covered booklets that held the key to a military code the Confederates never cracked.
While many Civil War telegrams had previously surfaced, saved by their recipients, not all of them were preserved, and the newly acquired ledgers could fill in some blanks in the historic record.
The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities each will see a 5.6% budget reduction in fiscal 2012 under a spending bill passed Friday in the House that's expected to prevent a feared government shutdown.
Under the bill, each agency would have $146.3 million to spend during the budget year that began in October, down from $155 million. It's the second cut this year for the two grant-making agencies, which began 2011 with budgets of $167.5 million. The combined cuts now total 12.7%.
Americans for the Arts, the national advocacy group that lobbies to maximize arts spending -– or at least to minimize arts-spending cuts -– said that $146.3 million is what President Obama had penciled in in his original budget proposal for the NEA and the NEH, representing a compromise between the $155 million suggested by the Senate and the $135 million proposed by the House during earlier subcommittee negotiations over the budget.
The Senate passed the spending bill Saturday morning, and it now moves to President Obama for his signature.