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Toot, Toot, Tootie – NYS Arts Goes Splitsville, and What It Means: The Clyde Fitch Report

November 3, 2010

The Brown Tweed Society is pleased to welcome new contributing partner Leonard Jacobs, Editor of The Clyde Fitch Report, who will routinely weigh in with news from the New York theater scene and ongoing arts issues.

Artist: Charles Fazzino

The letter below this commentary announces the legal dissolution of the Alliance of New York State Arts Organizations, better known as NYS Arts. The announcement was the furthest thing from a surprise to arts advocates in the Empire State. Still, with our republic turning ruby-red Republican, there’s no question that cultural appropriations may be further eviscerated. Not that advocacy organizations can necessarily stop it from taking place: 21st century economics in America in general, and New York in particular, may force our hand. Yet the pro-arts case still needs to be made. Not to stave off the inevitable but to maintain the place for the arts, and for arts funding, at the table.

It’s a question of what arts advocacy infrastructure we need, who will lead it, and how it will be funded.

New York, of course, remains blue. But New York State Council on the Arts funding has already been slashed and some fear that, despite Andrew Cuomo’s election and possibly the election of a 32-30 or 31-31 Democrat-led State, it’s only a matter of when, not if, more cuts occur. I passionately believe in the inherent nobility of government-funded culture. But since the election of Barack Obama — and intensifying in 2009 with the enactment of the stimulus bill — I have also come to believe that our arts appropriation structure, indeed the whole nonprofit business model, is unsustainable and dysfunctional. In Albany, I believe we need an arts advocacy organization not interested in preserving the status quo, but in developing proposals for how to better apply, spend and apportion what state cultural funding remains. We need an arts advocacy organization with boots on the ground every day of the year, not just one day a year in, of all months, February. We need an arts advocacy organization that, when the time does come to mobilize troops, understands that email efforts are lame — distinctly late 20th century. I recognize that kicking a dead horse is sort of like animal cruelty, but NYS Arts never struck me as versed in the fundamental values of advocacy. New York artists, the whole of the New York creative economy, needs and deserves an advocacy organization equipped to pinpoint and drive to the future.

It’s no secret that I wish to recalibrate my career advocating for the arts, and to do so in a way that allows me, however modestly, to pay my rent or mortgage, put food in my mouth and clothes on my body. Why that is such an extravagant idea I do not know. I am so astonished by how threatened the old guard, at NYS Arts and elsewhere, find this desire.

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