Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Delaware Division of Arts Grants for 2009

Brandywine Hundred, Del. —

Our state's creativity fills our museums, our libraries, concert halls and community theatres, cinemas and retail shops. These works help to sculpt and define who we are. We must nourish creative thinking.

Arts education is not about creating creative individuals--the First State is awash with them. It is about creating more productive individuals. The benefits in doing so are clear. It's no secret that math is linked to music, that fine art is linked to critical thinking, that acting builds self-confidence.

Yet over the last 15 years, the National Endowment of the Arts' budget has been cut from $175 million to $125 million. Many state and local agencies receive direct funding from NEA. The outgoing President speaks of the importance of his signature educational program, No Child Left Behind. However, one of its unintended consequences was a decline in arts education in schools. Barack Obama and Joe Biden have pledged to turn this around.

On a local level, Gov. Elect Jack Markell will introduce legislation for a Delaware Arts Trust, modeled after the highly successful Arts Stabilization Fund. The latter aims to buttress facilities and maintenance of institutions; the former will be for programming.

Outgoing Gov. Minner used a meat cleaver with across-the-board agency cuts to achieve a balanced budget. Markell, who argues that some departments are run more efficiently than others and are not deserving of wholesale and arbitrary reductions, is likely to employ a more delicate and judicious slicing. The Delaware Division of the Arts might not have received the unkind $120,000 cut (5 percent) for Fiscal Year 2009 under Markell's scenario.

Its been a shrinking pie, and further, one that's not been cut justly. An examination of who got what in the Division of Arts Grants 2009 grants shows a disproportionate amount of monies to a few non-profits like Wilmington's Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts (DCCA), the Schwartz Center in Dover, and Yorklyn's Center for Creative Arts (CCArts), who attract few guests and have a relatively negligible impact on the cultural landscape. I think the money could have been better served elsewhere.

Eighty-eight organizations received 118 grants -- the vast majority were small and garden variety at $3,000 - $8,000. The largest grants were given to Delaware's large, recognizable institutions: OperaDelaware, Delaware Art Museum, Delaware Symphony and The Grand – ranging from $83,000 to $107,000.

But the DCCA, which averages 10 guests on an Oklahoma land rush type of day, also received $107,000? They do have an outreach education program, but to receive as much as the Grand? Compare that with venues where people actually attend: Delaware Children's Theatre received $2,500. New Candlelight Dinner Theatre received a paltry $5,000.

Then, CCArts got $68,000? That group reports to serve 10,000 in a year, but it is a limited market in a high per capita income locale.

Other inequalities: the Newark based Delaware Dance Company received $40,000.00, while the First State Ballet Theatre, which travels statewide and has a much higher level of training and personnel, received one-half of that.

The most egregious handout, reminiscent of Treasury Secretary Paulson's bailout to Wall Street execs for their severance packages, is the $62,000 hijacked by the Schwartz Center for the Arts in Dover. Renovated in 2001, the Center is billed as the premiere performing arts center in central Delaware. The Schwartz has been a white elephant since the day it opened after its renovation. It does not have sufficient seats to draw even third tier national talent. Listed on its web site presently are a whopping eight performances for 2009; six of which are one-nighters. The Schwartz board should turn over the center to either Wesley or Delaware State for $1, accept reality and be done with the misery. It will never, ever be a success. It's size and location mitigate against it. Aisle Say's olfactory meter smells a political earmark worthy of Senator Ted Stevens' Bridge to Nowhere.

This is the Aisle Say column of the year. I have greatly appreciated the opportunity to comment on the arts.

One last plug...former News Journal reporter Nancy Lynch's “Vietnam Mailbag” has been reported extensively by Community News and elsewhere. The coffee table book compiles letters home from Delawareans as they served in Nam. The quote below, dated Dec. 23,1972, was never published in Lynch's newspaper column but made her book. Navy Seaman Ed Cycyk, a P.S. duPont High grad of 1971, was channeling George Santayana with this comment: “I know this is the season to be jolly, but how can I be happy with all the hatred and discontent in the world. I'm just praying everything will come out alright.” Mr. Cycyk, this letter could very well be postmarked Dec. 23, 2008...from another foreign land with the same plea for peace.

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