Getting to Know Our Staff: Kristen Engebretsen

Posted by Tim Mikulski On January - 29 - 2013

In December 2012, Kristen Engebretsen, arts education program manager at Americans for the Arts, spoke with “V for Vitality” host Susan Brender for a podcast on

Brender, a former producer for MSNBC talk programs and CNBC’s The Charles Grodin Show, asked Kristen about how she ended up working at our organization, what it’s like to be a dancer, the importance of federal funding for the arts and arts education, and how the arts help communities both economically and through the intrinsic value of the arts.

You can listen to Kristen’s full interview below via SoundCloud.

Immigration Reform and the Arts

Posted by Nina Ozlu Tunceli On January - 15 - 2013

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaks at The National Press Club.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was the keynote speaker yesterday at the National Press Club here in Washington, DC.

As he completes his final term as mayor this year, and as the immediate past president of The United States Conference of Mayors, Mayor Villaraigosa delivered his vision on the main issue that he plans to continue working on going forward—urging Congress to pass immigration reform and create pathways to citizenship, leaving immigration enforcement agents to focus on violent criminals and give those who have not been through the criminal justice system an opportunity to become citizens.

While a direct connection to the arts isn’t obvious, immigration reform is an issue that also impacts artists and nonprofit arts and cultural organizations. For instance, foreign guest artists continue to have problems entering the United States in order to attend their exhibitions and performing events.

Americans for the Arts has been working to amend immigration reform legislation to include streamlining this provision for several years. Here is part of our “Statement of Concern” utilized as part of our Arts Advocacy Day efforts last year: Read the rest of this entry »

Impact of Fiscal Cliff Tax Legislation Enacted into Law

Posted by Nina Ozlu Tunceli On January - 3 - 2013

Nina Ozlu Tunceli

The following are some quick highlights of the Fiscal Cliff Tax Legislation that was enacted into law Monday night. The legislation only addresses major tax issues, while raising the debt ceiling limits and preventing the automatic sequestration spending cuts from beginning will be dealt with over the next two months:

Charitable Deductions: Good news is that the charitable tax giving incentives were not specifically capped and no changes were made to the exempt status or classification of charities, such as nonprofit arts organizations. While no changes have been made in this first round of fiscal cliff negotiations, tax reform revenue raisers are still on the table as Congress and the White House negotiate staving off deep sequestration cuts in the next two months. Americans for the Arts will continue advocating the importance of this issue on behalf of the nonprofit arts sector.
Personal Exemptions and Itemized Deductions: Unfortunately, the new tax law does reinstate both the Personal Exemption limitation and the “Pease limitation,” (named after former Congressman Donald Pease (D-OH)), which will reduce the overall amount of itemized deductions (including home mortgage, charitable, local and state taxes, etc) by three percent of only that amount that exceeds the threshold (but not to exceed 80% of total itemized deductions that would have been taken). These deduction limitations are not a cap and they only kick-in for married couples earning more than $300,000 and singles earning more than $250,000 annually.

Here’s how it works: If married taxpayers earn $1 million and have total itemized deductions of $190,000 (home mortgage interest, charity donations, state/local taxes combined) in 2013, they will not be able to deduct the full $190,000 from their income. They will only be able to deduct $169,000 ($190,000 – $21,000) because the PEASE limitation rule reduces the deduction by the equivalent of 3% of the amount of their income above the $300,000 threshold ($1 million – $300,000 = $700,000 is the amount above the threshold). The reduction would then be $21,000 ($700,000 x 3% = $21,000). These rules were in effect in the 1990’s, but had been temporarily phased out during the Bush-era tax cuts in the previous decade.
IRA Rollover: extends for two years, retroactive to 2012, allowing donors age 70½ or older to donate to charities tax-free from their IRAs. Important note: donation deadlines have been extended by a month so that donors can designate their IRA distributions to a charity in January 2013, but still have the deduction apply to tax year 2012. Read the rest of this entry »

I won’t bury the lead: Josh Groban was the recipient of the Bell Family Foundation Young Artist Award at our 2012 National Arts Awards and he was tickled pink at the honor. Here’s the video profile that was shown before he received the award:

Beyond Groban, the star-studded night this past October also honored Broadway leading man Brian Stokes Mitchell, renowned painter James Rosenquist, arts education leader Lin Arison, Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, and AXA Art Insurance Corporation.

Support from artists, philanthropists, and corporations alike is what makes the annual National Arts Awards so special—leaders from all sectors come together to honor the individuals and companies whose dedication to the promotion of arts and culture has had a profound impact on American life. This year more than 400 people were in attendance at Cipriani in New York City.

Event Chair Maria Bell has said that this varied group of artists and leaders has left an indelible mark “on the cultural fabric of our nation.” Read the rest of this entry »

On behalf of Americans for the Arts and the Arts Action Fund, I wish to congratulate President Barack Obama and all of the national, state, and local elected leaders across the country who won their elections last night.

White House

President Obama will now have the opportunity to fully realize his vision for the arts and culture as he originally laid out four years ago. By successfully securing healthcare for artists, economic recovery funds that saved artists’ jobs through the National Endowment for the Arts, and ongoing support for appropriations that fund federal cultural agencies, the president has taken many steps in supporting the nonprofit arts sector.

We hope to encourage President Obama and his administration over the course of the next four years to remain focused on maintaining arts education in every classroom; allocating a larger budget for the arts as an economic generator for American jobs, products, and communities; and protecting charitable giving incentives that are the lifeblood of the nonprofit arts sector.

We are proud that the nonprofit arts sector has already played an important role in our nation’s economic recovery by generating $135 billion in economic activity, supporting 4.1 million jobs, and returning $22 billion in tax revenue back to federal, state, and local coffers.


The make up of the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate, with a few races still to be called, is poised to remain relatively the same with modest gains by Democrats in both chambers. In the House of Representatives, we are happy to report that Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) won re-election in a hard-fought campaign made difficult by New York’s congressional redistricting plan. Also, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) will continue to chair the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee, ensuring a friend of the arts remains at the head of that very important panel. Read the rest of this entry »

An Overwhelming Win for Arts Education in Oregon

Posted by Tim Mikulski On November - 7 - 2012

Thanks to the amazing work of advocates like the Creative Advocacy Network and others supporting measure 26-146 in Portland, OR, arts education funding will get a big boost from a $35 per person flat tax to pay for arts and music teachers in the city’s elementary schools as well as grants to local arts organizations.

As of this morning, the measure was approved by a 60% to 40% margin, paving the way for the $12 million it is expected to raise annually to fund the positions of 70 teachers.

$4 million of that is expected to be distributed to arts organizations providing arts education to K–12 students via grants administered by the Regional Arts and Culture Council.

Congrats to everyone who worked on the passage of the measure and thanks for giving the idea to other communities who can now attempt similar campaigns in other cities across the country!

Your Post-Election To Do List

Posted by Jay Dick On October - 26 - 2012

Jay Dick

So much attention is paid to the time leading up to Election Day that people often forget about how valuable the time is after the election to the when the winners are sworn in. This is an excellent opportunity to reach out to the newly elected and an excuse to reconnect with incumbents. Here at Americans for the Arts, we encourage our members to adopt the following “schedule” after any election.

November 6, Election Night: Send the winner a congratulatory email, post to their Facebook, etc. If they have a victory party, attend or send someone on your behalf. (It is even better if the person attending was a campaign donor.)

November 7: Have a grasstop supporter contact the winner via phone or personal email on your behalf and congratulate them. This grasstop supporter should be an individual who has a personal friendship with the elected official. It is important that you provide your grasstop supporter with your talking points, but this is primarily a social call, not a hard sell about your issues.

November 7-13: Send a formal congratulatory letter to the winner via the USPS (not an email). The letter should be on your letterhead and tailored to that specific elected official. Overview your organization and what you do in their district. This is also a great time to remind them of any campaign promises that they made. Enclose information about your organization and upcoming events and offer an open invitation for them to visit or call upon you.

November 14-30: Contact the elected official and obtain a meeting. Ask your grasstop supporter to attend along with representative(s) from local organization(s) in that district. The meeting does not have to be at their office – they might not even have one yet – but can be at your office, a coffee shop, etc. The meeting should not be a hard sell, but continue to introduce you to them and talk about what your organization does in their district, show them any economic data you have on how your organization/industry benefits their district and offer to become an auxiliary staffer on your issue. Read the rest of this entry »

Election Time: Gauging School Board Candidate Support of Arts Education

Posted by Victoria Plettner-Saunders On September - 21 - 2012

Victoria Plettner-Saunders

In presidential election years we often forget that there are really important races going on in our own communities. Here in San Diego we have a hotly contested mayoral race, the outcome of which could be as critical to locals as Obama v. Romney will be to the nation.

But we also have school board elections getting underway and the California Alliance for Arts Education (CAAE) has geared up for its election year Candidate Survey Project.

I’ve participated in previous years by soliciting responses to survey questions from the school board candidates which are then posted on the CAAE website. The results are promoted through press releases and pushed out through social media so that voters can find out how their candidates stack up with their support of arts education.

What I love about these surveys is that I always find out things about the candidate that I didn’t know—who played instruments in high school, who makes contributions to which arts organizations, etc.

They all seem to want to look good to the voters about the arts. Of course there are those who also talk about budget needs and core subject priorities, but I rarely see a candidate respond completely negatively when asked about their commitment to arts education.

This in itself is important because the survey response means they are on the record. It gives advocates a connection and an opportunity to turn them into allies when they become school board decision makers.

So now that I’ve told you all the great things about the surveys, let me share a resource with you that will help you create your own candidate survey. The CAAE website has all the tips, timelines, and templates to help you develop your own. Read the rest of this entry »

A Busy Summer for the Arts Action Fund

Posted by admin On September - 20 - 2012

The Americans for the Arts Action Fund, in partnership with NAMM: National Association of Music Merchants, The Recording Academy (GRAMMYs), and The United States Conference of Mayors partnered together to sponsor programs at both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention with the help of the respective local arts agencies in Tampa and Charlotte (Arts Council of Hillsborough County and the Arts & Science Council).

It all began with two events in Tampa for the Republican National Convention.

The first was ArtsSPEAK, a policy forum on the future of the arts and arts education. The second was ArtsJAM, an intimate concert performance featuring national recording artists celebrating the arts.

To kick things off, Arts Action Fund President Bob Lynch welcomed RNC delegates to ArtsSPEAK in Tampa:

Later, he was joined by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who moderated the panel of elected officials, advocates and arts leaders. Featured speakers included: Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert; Mesa (AZ) Mayor Scott Smith; Hillsborough County School Board Member Doretha Edgecomb; Tampa Bay Times Marketing Director Kerry O’Reilly; and Jazz Musician/Former New York Yankee Bernie Williams.

You can listen to the full event via SoundCloud:

Read the rest of this entry »

The Arts: Making a Difference at the DNC

Posted by Robert Lynch On September - 7 - 2012

Bob Lynch at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa.

The Convention Halls are creative chaos. The streets are jammed with animated participants holding placards, engaged in heated dialogue and performing all kinds of issue-based street theater. The scent of policy is in the air. And it’s just the way I like it.

Here at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, the role of the arts is alive and well. What you see on TV is only part of what happens. Inside, actual policy is being discussed—not just broad themes, not just ideas, but approaches that will actually have an impact on lives and on communities.

I am here talking to these very political leaders about the value of the arts and arts education in American society, and I simply have to ask them to look out the window for them to get the point. My US Airways Magazine told the story clearly on my way in, ticking off dozens of cultural destinations awaiting convention delegates.

During our ArtsSpeak panel discussion in Charlotte on the future of arts and arts education in America, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright spoke about cultural diplomacy, a critical foreign policy tool. She also noted how the arts helped shape international political dialogue both formally through U.S.-sponsored jazz and dance and other art forms, and informally by every day actions.

On a personal level, Secretary Albright—famous for her collection of handcrafted brooches—told the story of how she would wear them as subtle symbols of mood or maybe a hint at national policy intent. For example, she wore a serpent pin when meeting with Saddam Hussein. It also turns out that she is a pretty good drummer—and goes by the nickname “Sticks.”

The discussion also showcased how the arts have proven to be so far-reaching. Former Secretary of Education Richard Riley discussed the need for continued focus on national education policies that would steer local and state decision-makers to enhance and support expanded art and music education in the local curriculum. The only state-level cabinet member in the country dedicated to arts and culture, Secretary Linda Carlisle of North Carolina, highlighted how cultural tourism is a huge job creator. Read the rest of this entry »

ICYMI: ARTSblog in August

Posted by Tim Mikulski On August - 31 - 2012

I’ve been trying to take the time at the end of each month to review some posts that you might have missed, and since August is a particularly vacation-filled month, I figured why not start now?

In case you missed it (ICYMI), here are some highlights from ARTSblog in August:

  • Arts Education Council member Jessica Wilt honored the memory of fellow council member Alyx Kellington who passed away in late July.
  • I found a video providing a tour of the public art and transportation project taking place in St. Paul, MN.
  • Arts for All’s Laura Zucker shared lessons learned as her Los Angeles-based organization celebrated its tenth anniversary.

Don’t forget to check ARTSblog often for new content, as we try to publish at least one new post each day, and keep an eye out for our second Arts Education Blog Salon the week of September 10!

You may have read that the Arts Council of Fort Worth is facing a 25 percent budget cut (from $716,000 annually to $450,000) in the proposed city budget that the city council will take up for a vote next month.

It just so happens that Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy at Americans for the Arts, was slated to be in town promoting the local results of our Arts & Economic Prosperity IV study as this news came out.

As you can see from this local news report, the arts council is doing all the right things and already changing minds as they advocate for alternatives to the proposed funding changes:

When it comes to local arts advocacy, you want to have a utility belt full of reasons to make your case, and the Arts Council of Fort Worth is doing the right thing by using our excellent local research (Arts & Economic Prosperity IV, Local Arts Index) as well as their own outreach to rally community arts leaders, elected officials, and the local media to get their message out in the month before the city council vote.

Although it is too soon to tell if this intense advocacy campaign will pay off when it comes to the city council on September 18, the fact that council members are willing to listen to the proposed use of hotel tax funding (a model that several other cities use to fund the arts) or another source so that funding will be dedicated rather than just another line item in the general fund, is a very encouraging sign.

Stay tuned to ARTSblog for updates on this story!

Chad Barger

Just like most small to medium-sized metro areas around the country, Harrisburg, PA has not always fully capitalized on the power of its local arts scene. About eighteen months ago the Cultural Enrichment Fund (CEF), the region’s united arts fund, sought to change this.

When looking for a community partner, the organization first thought of the local chamber of commerce. As its name states, the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corporation is a blended organization—part chamber of commerce and part economic development corporation. Knowing this fact, CEF had high hopes that they would understand the power of the arts—especially regarding its workforce development benefits.

After an initial meeting it was clear that the chamber leadership did understand the value of the arts, but it was not from local advocacy efforts. They knew about the value of the arts from national conferences where topics such as Richard Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, had been discussed. From these sessions they fully understood that attracting and retaining high-quality talent, versus a singular focus on infrastructure projects such as sports stadiums, iconic buildings, and shopping centers, is a better use of a city’s resources to spur long-term prosperity.

From this starting point it was easy for the Cultural Enrichment Fund staff to explain how the arts fit into that picture. Showing how the arts make Central Pennsylvania a better place in which to live, work, and play and explaining that a strong arts community is a key workforce development tool is something that they do every day.

The chamber executives were on board, but it was pretty clear that there was a disconnect. While it seemed that most business executives knew about the region’s thriving arts scene, it was not always being used as a tool for employee recruitment and retention by corporate human resources directors. So, CEF proposed partnering with the chamber to co-sponsor an Arts Impact Committee aimed at addressing this disconnect and the chamber quickly signed on. Read the rest of this entry »

Detroit Voters Save the Day for 125-Year-Old Museum

Posted by Kim Kober On August - 8 - 2012

Kim Kober

Last night, the three largest counties in Michigan passed a ballot measure to help sustain the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). Two of the counties, Oakland and Wayne, passed it by more than 60 percent, while the third county, Macomb, came down to the wire at 51 percent.

The museum was founded over 125 years ago, but began to suffer financially when public funding dried up in the nineties, followed by the Great Recession over the past several years. The measure was included on the ballot for the primary elections held in Michigan yesterday and its passage adds a property tax, also known as a millage, that will cost homeowners an average of $15–$20 annually.

The resulting funds will provide approximately $23 million in annual funding for the museum for each of the next ten years, covering their annual operations. During that time, the museum will focus on building their endowment to ensure the museum’s sustainability after the ten years have passed.

Detroit arts advocates employed some creative tactics in the weeks leading up to the primaries.

Free Art Friday, led by Skidmore Studio, invites artists and arts supporters to create art and leave it around the city with a note, for others to find and keep. Last Friday, the event began with a rally at the DIA in support of the museum. Just days before that, Art is for Everyone sponsored a rally in a nearby park. Between the two events, hundreds showed up in support of the museum, and the visibility made a difference.

Mike Latvis, director of public policy at ArtServe Michigan and chair of the State Arts Action Network noted, “This is a great win for arts and culture in Michigan. Yes, it is only one organization out of hundreds, but voters representing counties totaling 40 percent of the state’s population just said yes to funding the arts.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Funding Restored for South Carolina Arts Commission!

Posted by Kim Kober On July - 18 - 2012

Kim Kober

State legislators met over the past two days to consider overrides of Gov. Nikki Haley’s vetoes to the state budget. Two of these vetoes impacted funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission.

Veto #1 completely eliminated funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission, resulting in the agency closing its doors on June 9.

Veto #21 eliminated $500,000 in additional funding for the arts commission to distribute in grants.

To override a Governor’s veto, the item is first considered by the State House of Representatives and if two-thirds of the House vote to override the veto, it will then move on to the Senate where a two-thirds vote is also required.

Yesterday, the House voted to override both of the vetoes with votes of 110–5 to restore funding and 89–25 in favor of the $500,000 for arts grants.

Today the Senate has done the same, voting 29–10 to restore funding for the arts commission and 29–12 to override veto #21.

It’s great to see South Carolina policymakers recognize the value of the arts commission and it was amazing to see how arts advocates in the state stepped up and make noise when Gov. Haley’s vetoes were announced.

If you’ve been reading about the arts online over the past week and a half, there is a good chance you were reading about what was going on in South Carolina. On Twitter, #SaveSCArts has been mentioned hundreds of times and a petition received more than 7,600 signatures of support.

On Monday, one week after the arts commission closed their doors, advocates held a rally in the state capitol of Columbia where arts supporters gathered to play music, dance, and paint. We know their efforts did not go unnoticed by policymakers. Read the rest of this entry »