Archive for September, 2009

Art War Reinitiated

September 25, 2009

NEA Communications Director Yosi Sergant is the most recent casualty in the reinstated right-wing attack on the arts, according to multiple reports.

Sergant has been accused of promoting a political (pro-Obama, pro-democrat) agenda in NEA project initiatives.  The apparent impetus for the right’s criticism of Sergant was a conference call in which he reportedly suggested the creation of artwork promoting certain policies associated with the present administration, such as healthcare.  In less extreme times it would hardly seem like grounds for dismissal.  Nevertheless, Sergant was relieved of his communications duties and subsequently resigned on September 24th.

This time around, rather than accusing the Endowment of promoting pornography and immorality, right-wing media demagogues have attacked it on political speech grounds.  The main idea, apparently, is that the NEA should not promote the policies of the government of which it is a part, nor discuss them.  Considering the manner in which the previous presidential administration sought to extend its agenda, it’s a hypocritical position at best.

The autonomy of the NEA, and its job of distributing funding to art organizations and artists is vital to supporting the social/cultural dialogue that is the most important component of the arts.  A politically motivated assault on the NEA is no less than an attack on our ability to express that critical speech.

While in some ways, past attacks on the NEA and the arts in general may be interpreted as having been based upon a lack of education in the arts, this situation is not that.  Rather, the aggressors do understand art to the extent that they perceive a power there–critical speech that they seek to subvert. They also want to make a strike on the Obama administration, in any area that they perceive a weakness, and the NEA has proven to be a soft target in the past.  This is clear, but if we want to have an inclusive and progressive society now is the time to take a stand against bullying attacks on the arts.

ABC News:  Yosi Sergant Resigns

Washington Post:  Yosi Sergant Resigns from NEA

Huffington Post: Yosi Sergant Resigns

Chairman Landesman’s statement on the conference call

The Chronicle continues: More Museums Cut Hours, Exhibitions & Staff

September 14, 2009

At the top of the list, reflecting a drop in the value of its endowment, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is cutting down on the number of major loan exhibitions.  Such borrowed exhibitions tend to be quite expensive and the museum apparently intends to reduce the number of the larger of these shows by up to 25%.  Other avenues of raising funds are also being considered.  The Met has long had a recommended (voluntary) general admission fee, but Director Thomas Campbell has reportedly not ruled out entry fees for special exhibitions. Staffing cuts occurred earlier in the year.

The Cleveland Museum of Art cut its budget, but apparently not the number of its employees.  The museum has seen a 30% drop in funding and intends to cut costs, including salaries, to make up the gap.  The museum is continuing with a $350m renovation and expansion.

LSU Museum of Art has cut at least one exhibition from its schedule after learning that its budget has been slashed by 20%.  The museum is also ending its free admission program and will now charge $6 for students and $8 for others.

Detroit Institute of Art is facing the cut of $6 million in funding from the state of Michigan.  The cuts will reportedly come primarily in the form of reductions in staff and operating costs.

The Miami Art Museum has cut staff after a 10% reduction in operating costs but is continuing with a $220 million expansion project.

This listing is just a fraction of the art institutions that are affected by the broader economic conditions and other related organizations, notably local historical and science museums, have been hard hit as well.  Smaller institutions tend to rely on state funding and considering the current situation, are a prime target for the legislative budget axe – with the ultimate result being a limitation on public access to art.

Image:  The Arthur Sackler Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chinese Art (permanent exhibition).