Given that I rightly dump on the Inquirer and Daily News on a regular basis, it would be unfair of me not to give either paper credit when they do really good work. And that is true of Karen Heller’s column today (the subject is the last-minute deal to slap “an 8 percent surcharge on tickets and membership at arts and cultural organizations in Philadelphia, 6 percent elsewhere, at a time when endowments are down, giving is down, and attendance is down,” as Heller tells us)…
“I don’t know what Gov. Rendell and the leaders of the legislature were thinking,” Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance president Peggy Amsterdam said before launching a “Fight the Arts Tax” movement at last night’s fall meeting. “The really sad thing is we try to make cultural experiences accessible and affordable to everyone. This is going to make it harder.” Increased ticket prices, she argued, will drive away even more patrons already hit by the recession.
Of the alliance’s 390 member institutions, 40 percent are suffering deficits, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, with shortfalls of $3.3 million last fiscal year and a projected $7.5 million this year. It’s like drawing blood from an anemic. Amsterdam says projecting $100 million in annual tax revenues is pure folly: “Our estimates are nowhere near that – maybe $20 million statewide.”
Arts administrators complain there are no details on how much will be redirected or where. What’s to prevent Republican lawmakers from taking Philadelphia Museum of Art revenues and shipping them, say, to the Enchanted Woodlins chainsaw carvings of Elk County?
“If this had been proposed totally across the board on all forms of entertainment, you might say, ‘This stinks. It adds to our challenges, but these are really difficult times and we’re all doing our share,’ ” said Cultural Alliance chairman Hal Real. “But it’s not across the board. And it’s symptomatic of how undervalued the arts are in our culture.”
“Not across the board” indeed: as Heller points out, anyone who wants to pony up some dough to ogle Megan Fox in “Jennifer’s Body” as she cavorts with and then subsequently attacks her boyfriends (apparently she’s a vampire also – I only know about the flick from the commercial that seems to be on everywhere) is free to do so without paying the 8 percent tax on top of the ticket price.
And that also goes for anyone who wants to get drunk at a tailgate party and watch the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense get carved up by a reasonably competent NFL quarterback again (to say nothing of watching slapstick special teams play), as Drew Brees of New Orleans did last Sunday (I’ll admit that Brees is a lot better than “reasonably competent,” though). Also, in the matter of football, don’t you worry, all of you egomaniacs driving around in your Hummers, Jettas and Lexus SUVs with your lion’s paw decals and bumper stickers saying, “If God Isn’t A Penn State Fan, Why Did He Make The Sky Blue And White?”…it looks like your precious Nittany Lions weren’t affected either.
And you want to know who else wasn’t affected by the 8 percent arts sales tax? The warmongering Pattison Avenue Potentate himself, Ed Snider, that’s who. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to watch Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins skate circles around the orange-and-black at the same cost you would have paid otherwise, to say nothing of watching the Sixers get eaten alive by other teams’ big men in the paint.
(By the way, to the Eagles’ credit, I should point out that owner Jeffrey Lurie and Snider are polar opposites politically; the Eagles are big contributors to the Democratic Party.)
Yes, I’m more than a little pissed about this, partly because, as Heller points out, it doesn’t make economic sense. However, the tax does appease the Republican Party for the purposes of doing the deal, which of course is what this is all about.
And with that in mind, this tells us the following…
The philosophical divide between those who see the arts as frivolous and those who see its value is as old as the nation.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the federal Works Progress Administration paid thousands of unemployed artists to write regional guidebooks, produce plays and organize symphony orchestras. The work of more than 5,000 artists can still be seen today in murals commissioned for schools, post offices and other government buildings.
President Obama has not proposed such a program but supports increased arts funding. Most Republicans oppose spending tax dollars on aesthetics.
“America is a practical nation that comes from very practical roots,” says Robert Lynch of the advocacy group Americans for the Arts. “That practicality … is part of what we’ve had to overcome.”
It was on display in the recent debate in Congress over the economic stimulus package.
The House of Representatives version included $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts to help non-profit arts organizations avoid closing or laying off workers, but the Senate version left it out. The final bill restored the money for the NEA.
“Putting people to work is more important than putting more art on the wall of some New York City gallery frequented by the elite art community,” said Republican Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia during the debate.
No word on whether or not Kingston ever found his flag lapel pin, by the way.
But on top of that, anyone who thinks arts spending doesn’t make a positive economic impact (like Kingston) is just plan wrong (I linked to this in a prior post, but it bears repeating)…
In Chicago, nonprofit arts and cultural organizations generate $1.09 billion in revenue, support 30,134 jobs, and deliver over $103 million in tax revenue to local and state government, according to the Illinois Arts Alliance. In Illinois, 23,643 creative enterprises employ 132,882 people, according to Americans for the Arts.
And as noted here…
The arts are a prime vehicle for job creation and a valued economic distribution mechanism. The country’s more than 4,000 local and state arts agencies have nearly 50 years of proven history as good stewards of our tax dollars and can ensure speedy disbursement to local projects, along with the excellent direct distribution track record of the National Endowment for the Arts itself. The arts are essential to the health and vitality of our communities.”
NEA funds, on average, leverage $7 in additional support through local, state, and private donations, for every one dollar in federal support. Fifty million in economic stimulus will leverage $350 million of investment.
And returning to Heller, she concludes with this…
If you were a deeply cynical sort of person, even someone with a fleeting knowledge of the sour feelings Republicans have for Philadelphia and Rendell, you might think this latest culture tax was a spirited flamenco dance atop the city’s fiscal woes.
In high heels, for good measure (to twist the old saying a bit, I guess PA’s Harrisburg poobahs don’t know much about spending money efficiently, but they know what they like…or don’t like in this case).