John McCain and Tom Coburn call out Philly art organizations.
Last week Republican senators John McCain and Tom Coburn issued a report which suggests that “billions of dollars of stimulus funding have been wasted, mismanaged or directed toward silly and shortsighted projects.” Two of the 100 grants identified in the report went to Philadelphia organizations Spiral Q Puppet Theater and Pig Iron Theatre Company, which each received $25,000 through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
According to Pig Iron managing director John Frisbee, the stimulus money—administered by the National Endowment for the Arts—was intended “to help the company retain the position of associate artistic director [currently held by Alex Torra] and to fund actor salaries for Pig Iron’s world-premiere production Welcome to Yuba City .” The spectacularly creative dance-theater piece played to sold-out audiences at the 2009 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and was the company’s most-attended show in Philadelphia history.
Actor/director Alex Torra has held the associate artistic director position, a job that entails working on both the artistic and administrative sides of the company, since 2007. A member of the Yuba City ensemble, his responsibilities include collaborating with the artistic directors in the creation of new work and the formation of the Pig Iron School (set to open in 2011). Among his many administrative duties is guiding the creation and future publications of a series of books about Pig Iron, including an anthology of the company’s plays. Additionally he’s working with actor/sound designer Mikaal Sulaiman to develop an original work exploring how people “remember” their collective history.
The McCain-Coburn report states that the $25,000 awarded to Spiral Q is “to help produce socially-conscious puppet shows.” However, Spiral Q executive director Tracy Broyles says the report misidentifies the grant’s intent. “The grant is meant to preserve jobs,” explains Broyles. She says the funds support a portion of the company’s production manager’s salary. The production manager “is responsible for the development and implementation of production schedules for four to six large-scale neighborhood parades annually.” The job also entails training teaching artists, studio artists and artist assistants, the management of the studio and maintenance of Spiral Q’s more than 2,000-piece collection of artifacts. In addition, Broyles says the production manager provides support to the company’s education and outreach programs.
Without the stimulus funding, Broyles explains that the company “would be forced to turn away schools and community centers who are already struggling to meet the needs of their children.” According to Broyles, the absence of a full-time production manager would force the company to make significant cuts to their programs, “thereby reducing part-time work for more than 20 teachers, artists and college students.”
Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance Chief Operating Officer Tom Kaiden recently appeared on Fox and Friends where he stated that nationally there are “over 2.6 million people working in nonprofit arts positions and another 3.1 million people working in jobs supported by the industry. To say that these grants are frivolous is simply not true.” He further explained, “These grants supported hard-working professionals with families—citizens who pay grocery bills, mortgages.”
Between 1995 and 2005, federal support of cultural organizations dropped precipitously. According to a 2008 GPCA report written by the organization that “examines the vibrancy, value and vulnerability of the cultural community for civic leaders, policymakers, cultural organizations, and the general public,” in 1995, the ratio of state to federal funding for cultural organizations was 1:1. While state support increased 144 percent over the next 10 years, federal support declined by 72 percent, resulting in a ratio of 9:1 in 2005.
At the same time, the report cites the popularity of cultural organizations. Excluding parks, the organization found that visits to cultural destinations exceeded 15 million, which translates to four visits per year by every resident of Southeastern Pennsylvania. The national advocacy group Americans for the Arts reports nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences generate $166.2 billion in economic activity, supporting 5.7 million jobs and contributing almost $30 billion in government revenue annually.
It’s unclear why Spiral Q and Pig Iron are targeted in the McCain-Coburn report. Pig Iron’s Frisbee believes the report reflects an opinion “that the arts are really window dressing and that the jobs conserved or supported by the grant aren’t real jobs.” As for Spiral Q’s inclusion, Broyles offers that “puppet theater is an easy target and is used in the report to divert attention from the real use of these funds, the preservation of jobs.” ■
Calendar: May 22-29
PW's Weekend Picks: May 17-19
Calendar: May 15-22
PW's Weekend Picks: May 10-12
Calendar: May 8-15