Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Make U.S. Arts Policy an International Discussion


Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Paul Nagle.

I like to think of myself as an internationalist, and in that role, I have been speaking to my (mostly European) cultural counterparts for years.  Until recently, I have generally hit a brick wall in trying to discuss U.S. Cultural Policy with them.  Their reaction was always the same.  “It is useless to discuss arts funding with you, because it is apples and oranges.  We have always had support for the arts and we will never lose that patrimony.  It’s just too different.”  Hmmm. 

Suddenly, this September, when I was in Berlin, I started hearing a different tune.  Italy’s cultural budget has been obliterated by Berlusconi and Cameron cut the British Council’s budget by 40% shortly after taking office in the U.K.  The Netherlands now has a right-wing coalition government slashing the cultural budget.  (For a take on the situation in the Netherlands, go to our blogsite where ICSCS Associate Director Lise Brenner has posted “Leftist Hobbies (or does the Dutch voter really hate art, Greenpeace, and their local squat café?)”.

So now our European counterparts seem more willing to discuss “Why are artists under attack and how do we respond?” It’s an opening for expanded international engagement, and a reason for artists around the world to work together.  As an example, we were contacted last week by The Internationalists, a coalition of theater directors from around the globe, regarding "Theatre Uncut in New York," a solidarity event in support of Reclaim Productions’ call for a "National Theatre Uprising" which has brought together seven of the UK's leading playwrights in response to the unprecedented public spending cuts in the UK.  On Thursday, March 3rd at 8pm, the 5th Annual NoPe Conference: Global Change in Performance, NoPassport, and The Internationalists in association with INTAR will present an evening of short play readings at INTAR. This event is both in solidarity with UK artists and celebrates the potential of civic responsibility by artists everywhere. It is one among many efforts by hundreds of theatre companies, universities, artists and global supporters who will be staging these shorts throughout March.

But it’s not all about funding.  We are working with Jared Akama Ondieki and CEPACET in Kenya, who is engaging artists in a campaign to peace-build during the upcoming elections.  We are looking for a sister city project in Arizona to pair U.S. and Kenyan artists engaged in promoting civility during election cycles.  Wouldn’t it be great to have the two campaigns helping each other and comparing notes?   We are also working with Shalom Neuman , visual artist, in the Czech Republic, who is converting a 10th century basilica in Bohemia into a cultural center celebrating all of the ethnic communities that have called the region home. The center will be a locus for understanding as two towns create a repatriation campaign for Jews and Germans who lost their properties or were driven out as a result of World War II.  And we are working with Todd Lester of freeDimensional an organization that has created a network of arts facilities around the world that work to provide short and long-term safe haven to artists who have become political refugees (which happens way more often than it should).

As funding paradigms are collapsing globally under the crush of the baby boomer numbers, and as people around the world gain new understanding of how arts and culture can lift conversations about global challenges, we have new openings for international cultural policy discussions.  Exposure to ideas from around the world will strengthen all our investigations, and spur expanded thinking on what is possible anywhere. The time for provincial thinking on cultural policy has passed.



  1. It is a sad state of affairs when the rest of the world's arts funding is starting to resemble ours.

  2. Collaborations between artists of different companies, cities and countries are always a good way to stretch the artists and companies involved. We all gain experience and develop friends, but some of us have been doing that for years and it doesn't necessarily help stabilize the organizations involved.

    I think what you are talking about - both here and in your previous blog - is switching gears and looking to collaborate with political organizations or other, non-artistic orgs. That is interesting. Maybe those kinds of partnerships will bring a stabilizing influence. Not sure yet.

    And the work to find those organizations and match them with grassroots arts organizations here in our community seems daunting and overwhelming.

    I will follow ICSCS with interest.

  3. Check out the article on The Clyde Fitch Report about the ICSCS launch:

  4. Hey younglee, I think yes, building those types of collaborations is the groundwork for shifting the paradigm, but (and correct me if I'm wrong Paul)I think Paul is saying that that is the very beginning and the goal is ultimately to change perception, policy and eventually legislation around arts and culture. Which would help create a stronger foundation for arts organizations.

    It is a tough nut to crack, but I am encouraged by your enthusiasm Paul.

  5. In your last paragraph, you are really looking at the dysfunctional cultural issues around the world and seeing an opportunity. Sounds like some Indie Theater companies that I know.

  6. What happens when your film is #2 on the all-time box office, but happens to be an adult film?