The Art of Government: Looking Forward in 2013

By Kegan Marling

January 1, 2013, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

After a seemingly endless election season, everyone could probably use a break from talking politics. But politics (and policy making) carries on, so here’s a quick run-down on what this election may mean for the arts in the next few years and what we all can do to stay involved.

While President Obama has long been a supporter of the arts, we can expect that the focus of any arts-related policies in the next few years will lean towards three areas: fiscal prudence, job creation and education.

Compared to Romney’s threats to defund the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), their staff must be feeling some relief. While it hasn’t always been wonderful under the Obama administration (the NEA has seen a 13% decrease in funding over the past two years), at least there’s a good chance it will be around to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2015.

And Obama has proposed a 5.5% increase in the NEA budget for next year, which if adopted by congress will bring their budget up to $154.3 million. This would increase state and regional arts agencies funding by $2.7 million, and direct funding to non-profits by $4 million.

Other than this proposed increase to the NEA, the Obama administration has been fairly quiet about their arts platform for the upcoming four years. The Democrats as a whole have been more transparent, including a specific Arts & Culture section in their platform:

“[Democrats] are committed to continuing the policies and programs that have already done so much for our creative arts industry and economy. Investment in the arts strengthens our communities and contributes to our nation’s rich cultural heritage. We will continue to support public funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, for the National Endowment for the Humanities, and for programs providing art and music education in primary and secondary schools. The entire nation prospers when we protect and promote the unique and original artistic and cultural contributions of the women and men who create and preserve our nation’s heritage.”

The arts were not mentioned once in the Republican party platform, which continues an unfortunate shift from just 25 years ago when Republicans considered arts and culture programs national treasures worthy of taxpayer support.

Partly because of this deep divide between the two parties, it’s unlikely we’ll see significant new efforts on behalf of the administration to support the arts in the next couple years, but there are a few promising programs in the works.

The first is a partnership between the NEA and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) to develop nation-wide data on economic activity in the creative arts. The BEA is collecting information on a select group of commercial and non-profit entities, tracking their contributions to the gross domestic product.

Previously, the BEA only broadly reported estimates for the performing arts every five years, sometimes combining it with other areas such as sports and recreation. The new reporting will provide separate data on dance, theater and music; and shares industry details such as employment estimates of arts practitioners and those working in industries that produce goods and services for the arts such as dancewear makers.

Preliminary estimates will be released in 2013, and in 2014 the BEA will publish the findings in The Survey of Current Business, a key publication for leaders in economics and policy.

This project is part of the NEA’s current research agenda of ‘impact analysis’ – looking at how the arts affect various areas of our life including economy, science, education and human development.

Also on the national agenda, Obama has moved forward a new initiative that funds arts education in eight of the nation’s lowest performing schools. Based on research that arts education improves student performance, the Turnaround Arts Initiative from the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities selected eight schools to receive $15 million for arts supplies, educator training and arts curricula.

The program is being developed in conjunction with the Department of Education, and will test the hypothesis that “high-quality and integrated arts education boosts academic achievement, motivates student learning and improves school culture in the context of overall school reform.” As this program unfolds, it may become an invaluable case study on arts education impact.

More information on this program, the research study this project is based on, and other arts and humanities initiatives from the Obama administration are available at the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities website (

One more thought on the national picture for the arts: the big topic after the election was how the shifting demographics played out in this election. Issues of importance to young voters and the increasing Latino population greatly impacted this election. The Bay Area has already been adjusting to demographic shifts for a number of years, but as resources continue to shift from Boomers to Generation X/Y, knowing who your audience might be is just as vital as knowing who they are now.

Due to congressional redistricting, a number of Bay Area residents will have a new representative in congress this year. We’re fortunate to have a history of strong arts advocates – all of the incumbent Bay Area representatives scored an “A” or “A+” according to the Americans for the Arts’ recent congressional score card (there are two new Bay Area representatives in 2013 – Jared Huffman [D] and Eric Swalwell [D]).

With the new congress kicking off in January, it’s not yet possible to tell how redistricting will broadly impact the arts in the Bay Area. We can expect that the Democrat’s supermajority in California will prompt more legislation than usual to move forward, and in general the Democrats have been favorable to maintaining or increasing arts programs, but representatives have already mentioned ballot initiative reform, tax reform, and health care improvements will take priority in 2013.

What will affect many artists indirectly is the passage of the Proposition 30 tax increase. This tax increase is expected to raise $6 billion annually for California’s education system. Without the passage of Prop 30, the state was expected to cut millions of dollars for public schools – notable cuts included eliminating many arts programs at K-12 schools and reductions in arts and humanities courses at the university level. With Prop 30 passing, many of these draconian cuts are now off the table.

To keep these cuts off the table, it continues to be important to demonstrate the impact that art has on our community. In November, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee shared a new study by Americans for the Arts affirming the significant economic impact art has on the local economy.

“The nonprofit arts and culture sector is vital to the character of our City and now we have proof that it is critical to our local economy,” said Mayor Lee.

“Not only are the arts a cornerstone of our tourism industry, but we’ve seen first-hand how investing in the arts can help transform economically depressed neighborhoods and help them attract and sustain new businesses and jobs.”

The study also shows that despite the challenging economic climate, the arts sector continues to deliver billions of dollars into the nation’s economy.

“This is great news for our local arts and culture organizations, because this economic impact study sends a strong message that when we support the arts, we not only enhance our quality of life, but we also invest in the City’s economic well-being,” said Grants for the Arts Director Kary Schulman. To read the entire Americans for the Arts report, visit

While it’s wonderful that Mayor Lee acknowledges the economic importance of the arts, it’s vital that our community offers concrete ways to engage the arts in all city planning. Mayor Lee cited innovation as one of the three main areas of focus for the 2013 and 2014 budget:

“Cities like San Francisco thrive because of their ability to cultivate innovative ideas. In order to meet the demands of the 21st century, we must all embrace innovation. Innovation in the public sector doesn’t just mean bringing technology into government, it is a different way of thinking, of collaboration, of solving problems, of doing more with less… and building on the incredible talents of both our public employees and the private sector in this City—the most innovative on the planet.”

This focus on innovation is echoed throughout the Bay Area. It’s important that as our local governments focus on this as a tool for economic and cultural development, artists remain visible as an important part in cultivating and sustaining innovation. As Randy Cohen from Americans for the Arts framed it, “We all have to make the case to our government leaders… we need to integrate artists into all aspects of municipal government so no decision is made without artist input (from manhole covers to traffic signal boxes to public garages to tourism).”

Now What?
With the start of a new legislative year, now is the time to make sure that your local and state congressional representatives are informed about the arts and understand their impact.

A personal letter can be a powerful tool for providing information that can be used by representatives when discussing the arts with fellow congressional leaders.
•  First and foremost – thank them for their past support of the arts!
•  Share a personal story about how the arts have changed your life or your community (if there’s anything I’ve learned from meeting with my representatives it’s that politicians love to share constituents’ stories).
•  Share information on issues that are important to you, such as arts education in public schools or tax deductions for charitable giving (see side-box).
•  Direct them to any research being done, such as the Americans for the Arts “Arts & Economic Prosperity Study” or the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities website.

And encourage your friends, family and audiences to write to their congressional leaders. Especially those living in areas whose leaders may not be as informed about the impact the arts have on our cultural and economic growth.

Possible Changes to Tax Deductions for Charitable Contributions
In this fiscal climate, congressional leaders are currently looking for ways to close tax loopholes. One of the “tax loopholes” that has been discussed regularly is the deduction for charitable contributions.

The personal income tax deduction for charitable contributions was originally created as a way to reduce government waste by encouraging individuals to donate directly to organizations that provided government-like services. This includes the non-profit activity of many arts organizations – such as training programs that promote creative thinking and innovation or performance programs that share cultural learning.

As representatives debate how best to address the current fiscal climate, eliminating the charitable deduction may seem like a quick boost to the nation’s tax revenue. That both Republicans and Democrats now see this as a potential way to ‘reduce government’ and raise revenue is problematic, as it undercuts our communities’ ability to provide these invaluable services.

Most arts organizations rely heavily on individual donations to operate – with donations representing between 40-70% of their annual revenue. Multiple studies have shown that charitable giving significantly increases when incentives are provided (specifically through tax-deductions) – and that when the incentive is taken away, donations decreased in size and frequency.

If government wants to continue relying on the non-profit community to provide valuable services, eliminating the charitable tax deduction is not a viable option. Recently, President Obama announced that he will not support a cap on deductions, estimating that such a limit would cost charities at least $10 billion annually. While this is good news from the White House, it’s important that we get congress on the same page so that this doesn’t become a bargaining tool. Contact your elected officials and be sure they are informed about the importance of the personal income tax deduction for charitable contributions.

This article appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of In Dance.

Kegan Marling is a visual & movement artist and arts consultant from the San Francisco Bay Area. Influenced by artists Della Davidson, Lea Anderson, Brian Thorstenson and Joe Goode, their work focuses on alternative queer communities, dance and theatre artists, body positivity and documenting queer pursuits of play – including gaymers, pups, drag artists, wrestlers and faeries. Their work has appeared in venues & publications including the de Young Museum, Frameline Film Festival, SF Chronicle, SF Weekly, National Queer Arts Festival and SF General Hospital. (