Tuesday, January 27, 2009

little eric and the sculpture garden

discussing the republican opposition to obama's stimulus package tonight on hardball, indiana senator mike pence threw out the old "$50 million dollars for the national endowment for the arts" line. "tell me how that's going to stimulate the economy!" pence said.

i don't think mike was being sarcastic here, i think he's being quite honest: he has no idea how that 50 mil might help.

mike just needs to listen to his buddy, republican weasel whip eric cantor, who recently answered that question, telling everyone how part of that $50 million would actually be spent: "there's $300,000 for a sculpture garden in miami."

in fact, adorable little eric has been flouncing all over the place shouting "sculpture garden! sculpture garden!" to folks like fox news, the richmond times, and others. it's a outrage, it's a scandal, right? a sculpture garden! in miami, no less! ugh! stupid sculpture! stupid culture!

funnily enough, the bit about the sculpture garden was a lie.

there is nothing in the stimulus package having anything to do with a sulpture garden in miami, akron, madison, or walla-walla. eric cantor was lying.

and once you pick your teeth up off the floor, you'll be fascinated to read what our friends at politifact have to say about little eric and the sculpture garden: liar, liar, pants on fire.

leave it to a wacky liberal politician from backwoods wisconsin to get it right: representative dave obey, house appropriations committee chairman, defended the proposed funding to the nea: "artists need jobs just like everyone else. fifty million out of $825 billion doesn't seem like an extreme amount to support our artists."

thanks dave. i say, if the $50 million remains, it all goes to the madison rep.

(the photo above is of actor and comedian eddie cantor, not virginia republican eric cantor. i'd much rather have a photo of eddie on my blog, so...close enough.)


  1. here, here, to Obey for his support of the NEA funding. tony - we DO agree on some things. gimme cantor's number....

  2. ...and why can't I FOLLOW your blog? say the internet won't display.

  3. well, now wait a second.

    Yes, the statement was a lie, but the $300k sculpture garden spend was real. Just last year's money, not this year. So, last year, the NEA didn't send money to the Madison Rep, they funded a fountain. These guys, who choose fountains as their best source of ROI, should be entrusted/rewarded with $50m. Does that make sense? Why do you think $50m (more?) to NEA saves the Madison Rep? Were they the "next ones" on the list? What did they do/not do to put them one step below a bubbler?

    and it isn't "$50m isn't a lot of money compared to $825b" - it's $50m. Right? There's this amazing entitlement of "well, bail me out too." I don't see that as the right answer now...or ever. Obey didn't direct funding to the Madison Rep, or many other artists last year, did he?

    Sure would be nice to hear better ideas for recovery "by industry" than "send that sweet bailout money pot over to my side of the table"...


  4. bri. that you start your rebuttal with "yes, that statement was a lie" should tell you something.

    last year...wait...LAST YEAR...the nea spent $300,000 of it's entire annual budget to help fund a sculpture garden in miami. that is true.

    that has nothing whatsoever to do with there being nea funding of $50 million in this $835 billion stimulus package. if you'd like to debate the social value / worth of a sculpture garden that's another bottle of wine. i think you might find me on the other side of "the fountain."

    now, to the present: i'm not suggesting that the nea is going to actually send $50 mil to the madison rep. i am suggesting that I THINK that might be a good idea, as the funds are in the stimulus package "to aid struggling arts organizations." and obey is supportive of the $50 million.

    i'm also gonna tell you that the nea probably DID provide a big chunk of money to the madison rep at some point within the last several years. and maybe the milwaukee rep. and the skylight opera. and milwaukee shakespeare (now closed.) and the milwaukee art museum. and lots of other programs, some you'd approve of, some you wouldn't.

    i'm not sure where the bubbler comes into play. and obey, according to americans for the arts (a non-profit organization to promote the advancement of arts in america) was the recipient of The 2004 National Award for Congressional Arts Leadership and "has been a staunch supporter of the arts on Capitol Hill, leading numerous floor debates to defend the federal governments role in nurturing Americas creativity. He has maintained a longstanding commitment to the arts and works strategically with the chairs of the Congressional Arts Caucus to pass annual floor amendments to increase funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities."

    my overall point was not about the madison rep.

    or bubblers.

    it was about republicans and the arts.

    in my experience, those politicians most often interested in eliminating federal funding for the arts belong to the g.o.p.

  5. Ten Reasons to Eliminate Funding for the NEA by The Heritage Foundation, circa 1997
    1. The Arts Will Have More Than Enough Support Without The NEA
    a. Flourishing of the regional arts coincides with 1965 est of the NEA
    2. NEA is welfare for cultural elitists
    a. NEA supports arts that serve ?Million a year – are they all cultural elitists?
    3. NEA Discourages Charitable Gifts to the Arts
    a. No empirical evidence for such a statement.
    4. NEA Lowers Quality of American Art
    a. No such qualitative or empirical evidence for such a statement
    5. NEA will continue to Fund Pornography
    a. No work funded by the NEA has ever been found guilty of being pornographic
    6. NEA Promotes Politically Correct Art
    a. NEA funding is based on ability, not content
    7. NEA wastes resources
    a. Compared to what federally funded program? Defense?
    8. NEA is beyond reform
    a. Multiple changes in admin. have proven otherwise
    9. Abolishing the NEA will prove to American public that Congress is willing to eliminate wasteful spending.
    a. It will cut equivalent of $1 out of a $15,000 budget.
    10. Funding NEA disturbs tradition of limited government
    a. No such tradition has existed since mid 1800s.

  6. Don't like political arguments (like above)?
    How about a purely economic one?

    US arts industry supports 5.7 million jobs and generates $166 Billion in economic impact.

    A $50 million increase, or $1 for every $3,320 of economic return seems like a solid investment.

  7. Prefer a philosophical argument?

    A strong civic culture is the bedrock of strength for any society. A culture left to the support of a commercial enterprise will ipso facto serve the commercial, rather than public interest. Only a civic culture supported by the entire civic body can serve the civic body. Modern civic society expresses this support through taxes, laws, and funding.

    It is the right of every member of the society to argue in favor of or against any priority of the civic representatives. It is our duty as civillians to participate in such a debate.

    A significant portion of the US supports public funding of the arts. I suggest this portion's total taxes paid are in excess of the NEA budget. Therefore, the budget may arguably be undewritten by that portion of the US that would choose to have 100% of their taxes go to support that department, at the expense of government programs or initiatives with which they disagree.

    In short, I want the NEA, I pay taxes, and I vote (or did anyway). So count my money towards the NEA. I'm willing to bet enough people feel the same so as to fully fund any proposed budget for that department.

  8. A little bit of investment in the arts goes farther than a lot to, say, AIG. I can guarantee you that we will not be hosting any $400k retreats with stimulus money. In any arts organization, the people are where the money goes because there is no extra room for anything else. (Like adequate materials budgets, or new seats.) Our jobs support families, just as auto workers' jobs do. We contribute to our communities and to other businesses out of proportion to any public money that is put into our company. My company has had layoffs and is facing more. I would hate to see the arts return to a plaything of the elite, or something that one sees elsewhere instead of a normal part of the community.

  9. Okay, let's try this a different way.

    Chris - you mention that this industry already employs 5.7m and generates $166b in impact. (not sure where??? those numbers came from, but they do sound impressive.)

    so, why does the NEA need more money?

    From their own website, are they not at the $160m level of support already? Now, disturbingly, about a sixth of that is for admin, which seems gosh awful high, doesn't it? Most NFP's run at a much lower rate, btw. Does anyone have any idea how the $50m would be used to achieve Chris's astounding rate of return? No, of course they don't.

    But wait, the $160m was an increase over prior year's funding. Reading the site


    I can't really tell if they got $128 or $160m last/this year, but either was an increase over the prior year's $124m (amazing, in a GOP administration, too!). And yet, the Madison Rep, and a good number of other theaters, are failing.

    I think for Chris's math to work, we'd have to know how much private investment was made to the arts, and then combine those two numbers to drive econ benefit. Looking historically, it seems that the funding for NEA has increased steadily since some gutting during the Clinton administration in 1995 (how interesting?). GOP held congress in 95, so that's probably theirs, but how do you explain the ramp up since then?

    Now, either NEA want $50m more, or $176M? for FY10. Again, I'm not sure of the final ask, but they definitely want more.

    Curious to Chris: Can you paint a bit of a picture, not philosophically, but financial, of how this $50m will drive some ratio of economic benefit that's greater than other choices? Exactly why is the NEA asking for more? They just got a big raise, and "ta-da", they decided to spend it on things like fountains INSTEAD of theaters that you and Tony would have preferred. if the Mad rep had gotten $300k last year, they probably wouldn't be in this kind of mess, would they? Why trust THESE guys to make good choices with YOUR money?

    Why is the NEA passing the collection plate? Probably because the private sector, at an individual level, has lost the sense of "value" that Chris has, both in support, and in attendance. In fact, there's little true ROI analytics (or perish the thought, accountability) done for most govt funding (whether auto bailouts, AIG, defense or otherwise). So, instead of taking a value proposition to individuals, which now isn't working, as the arts organizations have done in the past, the NEA wants a subsidy or bailout to make the 'work' that much easier.

    Not all that much different than all the other bailouts, with unsubstantiated (sorry, Chris), and poorly defended money grabs. It's just piling on, and that's my point. I guess if you blogged about sending more money to the autos, I'd respond the same way. It's a very bad mindset of "bail me out too" - I don't like it.

  10. I realize that Pence, Cantor, and now Brian are engaging in argumentum ad hominem, or maybe more specifically ignorato elenchi, but the $300K Vizcaya capital grant required a 1-to-1 non-federal match on the part of the museum. The museum is a National Historic Landmark, owned and operated by Miami-Dade County. It serves 175,000 visitors a year, runs a $5M budget, over half of which comes from admissions and other fee generating activities (including rental of the grounds, which presumably will be increase if the grounds are maintained or improved).

    The granting program: The Federal Save America's Treasures Grants is administered by the National Park Service (NPS) in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

    So one level of government gave another level of government half of the cost of a major renovation for a National Landmark from a pool of money specifically earmarked for that purpose, and of which the NEA is only one of five parties. The purpose of the grant being captial improvements for a government facility that relies largely on admissions and rentals to generate revenues which would otherwise need to be generated from the taxpayers.

    So five different agencies band together to give another level of government half of the money required for capital improvements so that level of goverment can properly maintain a National Historic Landmark and generate increased earned revenue to support operations and programming.

    And that's a BAD idea?!?! That's a BAD deal for the government how?!?!

    And how is this in ANY WAY relevant to the current discussion of whether increased NEA funding is a good idea?!?!

    It becomes very difficult to debate these matters if the opposition party fails to abide by the terms of civic discourse, the foremost of these terms being intellectual HONESTY.

    PS for Tony: In 2000, this program made a $250,000 grant to Ten Chimneys in Genesee Depot, a theatrical landmark that would have otherwise been destroyed.

  11. In partial response to prior questions and assertions:

    The figures for US arts employment and economic impact come from Americans for the Arts study "Arts and Economic Prosperity III" which is available online.

    An administrative/overhead ratio of 16% would not be unusual in an organization not actively engaged in producing live performance.

    The method by which these funds will be distributed are as follows: 40% percent of such funds shall be distributed to State arts agencies and regional arts or oganizations in a manner similar to the agency’s current practice and 60% of such funds shall be for competitively selected arts projects and activities in a manner consistent with previously established law and procedure.

    Notably the bill limits the typical "set aside" for administrative purposes to 5%, in recognition that these funds are not to be used to fund expansion in the federal government agency used to distribute the funds.

    In regards to an accounting for the rate of return on federal funding for the arts, as well as levels of private sector funding; a 330 page analysis which may be found at: http://www.artsusa.org/information_services/research/services/economic_impact/default.asp

    With respect to the relative ROI of arts investment vs. other government investment, numerous reports exists, many of which show equivalent ROI to other public funding alternatives. The research is vast and varied, but it does exist.

    And with respect to the "bail me out too" mentality that some object too, should arts and culture, with a demonstrated exceptional ROI stand by and NOT suggest funding be directed to them? What expectation is there that the arts and culture industry should sit idly by while other industries seek relief from the current economic mayhem?

    PS: I found by reading the bill, (and if you'll pardon the aside) that $200,000,000 is being set aside for maintenance and restoration of the National Mall, a program of capital investment in a National Historic Landmark achingly similar to the Vizcaya project so loudly derided thus far -- ONLY 667 TIMES LARGER! For purposes of clarity I will point out that these funds are in no way related to any funding provided to the National Endowment for the Arts.

  12. First of all, there's nothing wrong with supporting the arts - all for it, and I consider myself a contributor to much of the scope that the NEA study encompasses.

    Fundamentally, Chris's sources are interesting. More of a broad linkage between the arts and restaurants, hotel visits and babysitters. Not a bad causal and effect relationship, but there's a lot of fallacy to these relational assumptions (funding the NEA doesn't guarantee wise and prudent allocation of funds, or even event attendance and downstream benefits). I probably could have been more specific. At this point, where we are from a "governing" standpoint, it's about accountability - not accounting. A forward looking business case is interesting, but not the same level of accountability as having you, or me, or someone step up and say "yes, there's an ROI, and I'm willing to sign up and deliver it". Who will do that with the NEA?

    End of day, I guess it comes down to an expectation of government's role here. For some services, we all submit to a "common utility" level of services. Infrastructure, defense, safe food, education, heck even bank regulation - there's little utility in the individual or private sector taking this on. For other services, my big gripe is that there needs to be a sense ROI when those dollars are spent. "Agency" aspects of government (those areas which are not "utility") should be tested for accountability - not just accounting. There's a lot of things that the government "can do" or "could do"...in good times. These are not those times, and require difficult choices.

    It's hard to imagine NEA funding making the cut. If there's a dollar left to tax or spend, and we make a list of the choices that should be made...increasing NEA funding doesn't seem to fall into the line of economic stimulus, or ROI, or even some kind of collaborative solution to what government "can do".

    One final note: Attached is another example of arts needing funding. While this is a beautiful facility - truly stunning - setting up this kind of debt structure and this kind of excess without a lot of thought on "how to sustain it" represents to me, poor choices that should not be bailed out by taxpayer's, either at the civic or NEA level. Amazing that egos or appetites could not have been contained to build something that truly could have been sustaining based on the endowment presented. Yes, the stock market went down, but a more conservative approach to risk mgmt should have been put in place, similar to the same lack of fiscal responsibility that caused AIG and others to fail. Not expected, but certainly possible.



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