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Are You More Creative than an Eighth Grader?

I received an e-mail today from Morgan Saxby, an account executive at a pr company that, I’m guessing, represents the NAEP. He corrected a comment I made in my “Put Art Back on the Charts” post that asserted, 

Arts education ought to be appreciated in its own right, and not just for its potential to raise a school’s NAEP results.

Actually, the NAEP, in Mr. Saxby’s words,

does not find results for individual schools.  NAEP finds national results, state results (for math, reading, writing, and science), and on a trial basis, district-level results for a handful of urban areas. 

So, sorry for the misstatement, but that’s not really the interesting part, anyway. He goes on to say that the NAEP is preparing a report on the arts that will be released next year. The last time this was done was in 1997, and only eighth graders were assessed. It’s a pretty fascinating bit of reading, and raises any number of questions about what exactly is or isn’t quantifiable. It’s also kind of horrifying to read that 74% of these students received no theater instruction. (What are those middle school drama types supposed to do during their free time if they can’t rehearse for a class play? Just keep getting beat up?) I still remember my eighth grade musical experience:  Perfectly Frank, a tribute to the music of Frank Loesser, which introduced me to Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and most important, Lots and Lots of Applause. A belated thank you, Mr. Goltz.

I’m wondering if the 2008 test will be performed across the board, in only certain schools, if raising its scores will become a mandatory part of No Child Left Behind (of course, if there’s a Dem in the White House come November, hopefully NCLB won’t really be an issue) or if the results are just for our own edification.

Of course, I’d love to have answers for you today, but I’m on a tight deadline this week with a big feature due to my editor (look for it in Sunday’s Image section of the Philadelphia Inquirer). So I’ll speak with Mr. Saxby and get back to you with some more details ASAP. In the meantime, poke around the report, and hey, while you’re at it, try out some of the sample questions. I’d love to know how creative professionals or arts afficionados perform when put to the test. Literally.



Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Alive and on ABC


One thing I did not get to discuss on Ellis Henican’s show yesterday was the way Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos were Rosencrantz-and-Guildensterned during the Philly debate. Sent on a fool’s errand, they concerned themselves with trivialities and minutiae (lapel pins), inflated with self-importance (regarding time, Gibson announced, “I’ll be lenient, but not permissive”), blind to the fact that they were mere cogs in a political machine. They’ve since been chewed up by that machine and spit back out. Yesterday the AP released a feature on the pair’s misguided role in the debate, as did seemingly every other news outlet. And mirroring the careers of R&G, they’ve gone from minor players in a larger story to the subjects of their own little drama. Congratulations fellas, you’ve been sacrificed for a greater purpose.


R&G coverR&G Hamlet

Clinton-Obama Drama

I know I said I wasn’t going to post, but just in case you’re looking for something to do this evening at around 6 p.m., tune into the Talk Radio Network. I’ll be interviewed by Newsday writer and frequent Hannity and Colmes visitor Ellis Henican about the dramatic elements of the Obama-Clinton debate here in Philly.

And for the record, I thought George Stephanopolous and Charlie Gibson made a smashing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.



Compare and Contrast

Fair or unfair? Yesterday’s review of Delaware Theatre Company’s production of The Piano Lesson took shape as an almost side-by-side comparison with the Arden’s production, which was reviewed by my colleague, Howie Shapiro. Since the shows ran back-to-back, as a journalist, pairing them seemed inevitable. However, I can’t help wondering if readers are more interested in hearing about a specific production or enjoy getting some of the context surrounding it. Feel free to enlighten me.

DTC's Piano Lesson


Dead Kiddy Porn

To hold you over until Monday, read my review of Bryony Lavery’s Frozen from this weekend’s Philadelphia Inquirer. You can’t talk back on their website, but feel free to let loose right here.

The play was based on Lavery’s–to my mind–arrogant reaction to a documentary she’d seen on England’s Moors Murders. Moors murderers


Perhaps it wasn’t wise for the paper to send the mother of a daughter exactly the same age as the play’s murder victim to review the show, but on the flip side, I am something of a closet expert on serial killers (as is my mom, which, for a time, made for some truly odd mother-daughter bonding sessions). 

Anyway, I found the play exploitative in the most cynical way, and it really got under my skin, but not, I’m guessing in the way InterAct might have hoped. And one thing I didn’t have room to mention in my review: grieving mother + fondling dead child’s skull = way, way over the top. 

John McCain Hates Shakespeare

So, on to Mr. McCain.

I’ll be blunt here: John McCain wants to eliminate federal funding for the arts. That’s right, ELIMINATE it. (This from bipartisan Vote-Smart.org.) Even that nice NEA “Shakespeare for a New Generation” program. Alas, poor Yorick. Olivier as Hamlet Whatever your feelings about government funding for arts and the strings attached, some funding, however fraught, is better than none at all. 

Long ago, McCain voted for the Helms Amendment, which hoped to deny funding to work considered “obscene.” Certainly, this amendment might have put a dent in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s current blockbuster, “Frida,” considering that it features obscenity central to the artist’s work such as this: Frida Kahlo 

In 1999, McCain voted with, among others, Sens. Robert Smith, Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, Sam Brownback and John Ashcroft (who believes dancing is an affront to God, a notion I find obscene) for the Smith-Ashcroft amendment. The amendment hoped to cut all funding for the NEA from that year’s budget. And here’s the introduction it received:

“In proposing the amendment, Smith explained that his objective was not to reform or restructure the NEA, but to close it down. He argued that federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is unconstitutional. Ashcroft joined Smith in speaking in support of their amendment.”

I’d love to list a point-by-point analysis of the Republican candidate’s current positions on arts professionals or funding, but, well, he doesn’t have any. (A quick search of “arts” on McCain’s website turned up Andrew McCain’s Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics. Congratulations!) And if you’re wondering how McCain feels about arts education, you can keep on wondering, because his entire education policy goes something like this: here’s your voucher; now go somewhere else or stop complaining.

If you’re of the mind that the cream rises to the top and eliminating arts funding will get rid of all the dross cluttering our artistic landscape, then you haven’t visited a school, theater, museum or arts festival lately, and you sure wouldn’t be reading this blog, because the idea for it grew out of a recent NEA fellowship I received.

Without federal money supporting these outlets, they will disappear. Subscribers cover only a portion of operating funds, and closing the NEA will close them down too. Once that funding dries up–and it just might if McCain wins the election–so will all those fancy new theaters dotting Broad Street, as will our festivals and museums. And once the Avenue of the Arts’ neon lights are dimmed, you can also say goodbye to everyone who bought Center City condos during the housing boom, the galleries, boutiques and restaurants that have sprung up around the city’s various arts scenes, and all those tourism dollars spent outside of the historic district. At least you’ll still have the war in Iraq… for the next 100 years. Take that into account the next time you say you’re voting your pocketbook.

Pennsylvania Primary Primer and Arts Voter’s Guide

The Theater Alliance listserv has been inundated of late with rants about race, abortion, power, a Hillary/mommy complex, impassioned debate (to put it kindly) covering just about every aspect of this political open season except its impact on the arts. So before you step into the voting booth on April 22 and help decide for the country who you’ll be electing, Digg this entry, send a link to your friends, print it out, and make sure you support a candidate who supports the arts. 

I’ll begin with Barack and Hillary, since they’re the most similar. In case you’re wondering, I’m a registered Democrat, but veer weekly from one candidate to the other. Both have their official arts platforms up on their websites, but if you’re not up for slogging through those, here’s a quick summary of where they converge and diverge.

Arts Education

  • Obama and Clinton both favor the U.S. Department of Education’s (DoE) Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Grants. This program gives grants to school districts for teaming up with nonprofit arts organizations. Obama says he will “increase” its funding, and Clinton says she will “double the number of students served.” 
  • While Obama says he will “publicly champion arts education,” Clinton says she will end No Child Left Behind, as it diverts money from arts education, and will “provide incentives to schools to offer arts programs.” A nice thought, since currently their only federal incentives are to pass standardized tests or else.
  • For teachers, Clinton supports the DoE’s Professional Development for Arts Educators program, which offers teacher training and enrichment. Obama plans to launch an “Artist Corps” of “young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities.” He does not say whether this corps will be composed of volunteers or paid workers, or how they will work with the teachers already in place. 
  • In addition, Clinton wants to launch the “Putting Arts in Reach Initiative,” a program to help schools acquire equipment used in arts programs: art supplies, musical instruments, etc.

National Endowments for Arts and Humanities

  • Both candidates want to increase funding for the NEA. Hallelujah. Funding has increased under Bush, but not anywhere near Clinton-era levels.
  • In addition, Clinton vows to support increased funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Arts Professionals

  • Both candidates are banking on their universal health care plans to take care of artists, but Clinton’s goes a step farther, building in a refundable tax credit to keep premiums at a specific percentage of income, and offering a 401(k) “with a generous federal match” for the self-employed or others whose employers don’t offer a retirement plan.
  • Both candidates vow to streamline the visa process for foreign artists looking to enter the U.S. Good news for Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse, I guess, but stellar news for all those Festival performers and organizers bound annually by reams of red tape.
  • Both plan to expand public-private partnerships that promote “cultural diplomacy,” by sending American artists overseas and bring foreign artists to the U.S.
  • Both support the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, which Clinton co-sponsored. Currently, artists who donate their work to cultural institutions are only able to deduct the costs of materials; this act allows them to also deduct its fair market value. Niiiice. 
  • Again, Clinton goes one step farther, promising to support programs that create live/work spaces for artists (again, niiiice…), and initiatives that “help artists promote and sell their work.” Though these promises sound vague, she cites a few forward-thinking examples on her website that she’s actually had a hand in creating.

This week, it looks like Hillary for me. Obama’s on the right track, but Clinton’s far more specific in her plans. Shen’s got the stats, the record, and New York state, which–when it comes to the arts–is no slouch… 

Tomorrow: John McCain and arts funding.