Saturday, October 10, 2009

Arts Funding hoo ha...why I think this discussion is beyond absurd

I have received the following news in a myriad of messages, e-mails, carrier pigeon flybys, rocks through windows, note passed in the hallway between class, and other even more clever means of delivery:
The Mayor's budget proposes to reduce Milwaukee Arts Board funding from last year's $185,000 down to $50,000! We cannot lose this precious city funding for our stellar arts groups.

We need your show of support at the Mayor and Common Council meeting THIS COMING TUESDAY, October 13th 6:30 pm, in Council Chambers at City Hall.

Slug me in the gut for what I'm about to say if you're so inclined, but here goes: WHO CARES!

The City of Milwaukee Arts Board Budget has for years been embarrassingly minuscule. It is time to shovel that fund squarely into the ground and bury it so we can snub our collective noses at city funding and say, "We don't need ya!"

This mental grab for pennies that we in the non-profit arts business live under makes us all prone to histrionics over what is absolutely a hugely punitive and absurd proposed funding cut. Losing 75% of one of the city's smallest budget items is ridiculous beyond measure, but the energy we may all exhibit on this issue might be better spent looking at even greater change.

Here's one of the lessons I've learned about life from THE WIRE (all of life's lessons are in that show, folks, you just need to watch it obsessively like me). If you really want to fix the world, if you really want people to go to plays, attend concerts, and get jobs where they might have the salaries that would make them eligible to write big fat checks for your next art installation, shovel as much money as you can into fixing schools.

You may have heard that the mayor and the governor think the school system needs radical change. "Tru dat" is what I have to say as a Milwaukee area parent who has toured several Milwaukee Public Schools in the search I conducted to choose a safe, inspiring school for my children to attend (a charter school is what I chose, chartered through UW-Milwaukee, not MPS).

I don't advocate taking money away from the arts, and the level of insanity on this proposed cut only highlights how marginalized City Hall has made the arts feel for years and years while tourism is heavily promoted to Milwaukee with the proud boast that we've got a great arts and culture scene here.

This funding dilemma is a call for the entire Milwaukee arts community to finally stop reacting to getting hit in our privates again and again and consider some real activism in terms of putting the cultural plan for our city (when we actually have one) a little higher on the food chain for our local political engine.

I'm forced by the fact that I really like the guy to post this letter from Alderman Michael Murphy:

As you may already know, under Mayor Barrett’s proposed budget for 2010 the Milwaukee Arts Board will lose approximately two thirds of its funds. The Mayor has recommended cutting $110,000 from the 2009 allocation of $160,000. The subsequent result of this action will also be a loss of $25,000 matching grant dollars from the Wisconsin Arts Board.

I am clearly opposed to such a cut; the largest reduction in any department. This proposal would result in a total loss of almost 75% of the board’s funds. I thus encourage you to attend the Joint Public Hearing being held by the Common Council and the Mayor on Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 6:00 PM in the Common Council Chambers, Third Floor, City Hall, 200 E Wells Street, to share your concerns. As many factors are taken into consideration when determining the next year’s budget, it is important that the Common Council hear your voices in opposition to the Mayor’s budget.

I look forward to seeing you at the hearing to support art in the City of Milwaukee. If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to call me at 286-3763.


Michael J. Murphy
Alderman, 10th District

I'm not encouraging you to not weigh in on this matter, and Michael Murphy is one of the smarter allies to have on your side (please, please, please run for Mayor!) but I'm also suggesting that if any level of this funding is restored, it is in no way a victory. The time is now to think bigger than restoring a six figure cut to an already tragic little arts funding pool and work on the real problem of getting more of our city's own population to believe in and support the arts. Our theaters and galleries are not full on a consistent basis. When that happens, you better believe there will be some more powerful allies on the side of arts and culture in Milwaukee that know how to get attention in the Mayor's office. Until then, we are all just trying to drain the ocean with a straw.


Mike Brenner said...

hardly seems worth the fight anymore. Barrett has never really cared about the arts. this was inevitable.

in my experience, the only way to get anyone to do the right thing in Milwaukee is to humiliate them into it. when the funding is cut and the national press talks about what a huge shit hole Milwaukee is, then i'm sure money will magically be found.

until then i'll continue to sit on the sidelines and wait for milwaukee's "leadership" to retire and/or die so those of us with vision will be allowed to give some input.

Anonymous said...

Please don't presume that touring several Milwaukee Public Schools means that you are able to make anything but a preliminary judgement about what goes on in there. My family and many of my friends and neighbors have had very positive experiences at many different city public schools. I resent the mayor proposing to take away my right to vote for my school board representative. All that said, the only thing anyone should be talking about in this country is curbing runaway health care costs, because THAT is what's sucking money away from everything else that's important. (not exactly on topic, but as a parent who's had kids in MPS for 14 years and counting, I tend to take the digs a little personally.)

Ben Turk said...

Schmartsy, you don't know the half of it.

Last night after reading this post i read about tax loopholes in Douglas Rushkoff's new book. These loopholes allow people to "backdate" their donations, meaning people "take a tax credit much higher than the real value of the stock at the time they parted with it" which results in "reducing the tax base for regular social services". From a study done by the Stern School of Business at NYU.

In other words, when rich people donate to a non-profit arts organization, they are often taking more money from your schools than they give your organization.

In other words, non-profit arts organizations are unconsciously helping rich people rob the schools that we want to encourage appreciation for the arts.

In other words, non-profit arts organizations are shooting themselves in the foot. (not to mention helping bankrupt our society)

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