Arts – and Politics – in Motion

Music & Politics

Volume CIX, No. 5May, 2009

Paul Molloy
Click for larger image.
JAMMIN’! Local 802 member Wynton Marsalis dazzled and inspired his audience with a moving lecture mixed with performance
titled “The Ballad of the American Arts.” The 22nd Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy was presented to a capacity crowd at the Kennedy Center on the eve of Arts Advocacy Day, March 30, 2009. Marsalis played with Chris Crenshaw (trombone), Victor Goines (saxophone), Carlos Henriquez (bass), Ali Jackson (drums) and Dan Nimmer (piano). Photo by Jim Saah.

What a difference new leadership makes! Legislatively speaking, the past several weeks have been good to the arts industry.

Last month I reported that on March 11, Gov. Paterson, Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcom Smith agreed to drop the 137 nuisance tax proposals from the state budget. Among them were the onerous amusement and downloadable music taxes. 

To the delight and surprise of many, the governor and legislature announced the restoration of $3.5 million to the New York State Council on the Arts, which was expected to begin fiscal year 2009 with $16 million fewer than last year. 

Moreover, they allocated $350 million for the successful Empire State Film Production Tax Credit program. 

These two accomplishments would not have been possible without the effective leadership of Assemblyman Steve Englebright and State Senator Jose Serrano. 

The last of the $460 million in tax credits that were supposed to last until 2013 ran out in February, creating speculation in some circles over whether the program would continue to be funded in such dire economic times. 

This funding however, is only for one year. According to a senior staffer in the legislature, it is too soon to predict how much funding will be available when these credits are used up. The hope among industry leaders is that the legislature will commit to extending the program for three years. To do so eases concerns that tax credits will be available for production companies whose projects are budgeted several months ahead of shooting. Further, this would ensure well in advance that production companies can safely come to New York to shoot their projects.

New York City Councilman David Yassky (D, 33-Brooklyn) concurs. On April 8, he issued a press release — which included a statement from this writer — that praised the decision to fund the tax credit program for fiscal year 2010. However, he warned that if the governor and legislature don’t look ahead to the future, the state could lose hundreds of millions in production spending, thereby undermining the benefits of the tax credit program.

“The TV industry formulates production plans more than one year in advance,” Yassky wrote, “and will therefore be forced to look for shoot locations elsewhere in the absence of a guaranteed tax credit for producing here in New York.”

Most importantly for all New Yorkers was the inclusion in the budget of a progressive income tax. Senator Eric Schneiderman and Assemblyman Darryl Towns sponsored the original bill, the Fair Share Tax Reform Act. It temporarily raises taxes on the State’s single filers who earn more than $200,000 and married and joint filers whose earnings are above $300,000. Local 802 endorsed this bill and in partnership with many progressive organizations, heavily lobbied the State Legislature for its passage.


As we reported last month in Allegro, $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts was included as part of President Obama’s stimulus bill.

This came about through the leadership of House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Norm Dicks, House Appropriations Chairman David Obey and Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Louise Slaughter.

The money will come in the form of direct grants to fund arts projects and activities, which preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts industry that have suffered reductions in private contributions and other support during this recession.

According to the N.E.A.’s Web site: “Forty percent of such funds will be distributed to state arts agencies [NYSCA received $400,000] and regional arts organizations and 60 percent of the funds will be competitively awarded to nonprofit organizations that meet the eligibility criteria established for this program.” President Obama signed this historic piece of legislation into law on Feb. 17.

Moreover, Congress secured a $10.3 million increase in the N.E.A.’s annual budget for fiscal year 2009, raising it to $155 million.

On March 29, I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the 2009 National Arts Action Summit, organized by Americans for the Arts. The AFM was one of 80 national co-sponsors of the event. The first day was devoted to training in federal arts policy. It was capped by an event at the Kennedy Center by Local 802 member Wynton Marsalis, who with the help of five musicians from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra delivered a presentation combining lecture and performance titled “The Ballad of the American Arts.”

The second day began with a breakfast on the Hill with the delegates and several members of congress, including New Jersey congressman Rush Holt and New York Senator Chuck Schumer. Following this was a hearing on the federal role in the arts by the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which controls funding for federal arts programs such as the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities.

President and CEO Robert L. Lynch of Americans for the Arts, Wynton Marsalis, Josh Grobin and Linda Ronstadt presented testimony on the importance of the cultural sector to the American economy and the vital role the federal government has in supporting this industry. 

Afterwards, there were several meetings with members of Congress and the senior staff. The state delegations were broken into groups and given their assignments. My group met with Reps Maurice Hinchey, Nita Lowey and Local 802 member John Hall to lobby to increase the N.E.A.’s budget to $176 million and to support fully funding the Arts in Education program at the Department of Education for fiscal year 2010.

I met separately with Congressman Mike McMahon and senior staffers for Carolyn McCarthy, Gregory Meeks and Tim Bishop to lobby for support of the Performance Rights Act.

On April 7, Congressman Eric Massa (D, NY-29) visited Local 802 headquarters and met with a delegation of officers, Executive Board members and senior staff. During our meeting, we had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues. He proved to be a great listener and a quick study. As a result of our discussions with him, he agreed to co-sponsor the Performance Rights Act.


The Landolfi administration, the Executive Board and many among the Local 802 membership played an active role in helping secure these legislative accomplishments.

Recognizing the effectiveness of our grassroots campaigns and the need to simplify the process, the Executive Board approved an investment in Capitol Advantage, an award-winning online advocacy program, making it easier for our members to continue influencing legislation at the city, state and federal levels of government. It’s linked directly to our Web site at Capitol Advantage (a.k.a. “Capwiz”) streamlines the process of finding out who our lawmakers are and contacting them with our messages. 

We’ve covered a lot of ground over the past several months. Among the issues we’ve fought for are progressive taxation, NYSCA and NEA funding, the Empire Film Production Tax Credit, the Performance Rights Act, the Employee Free Choice Act and against the amusement tax, the downloadable music tax. However, there is still much work to be done. With Capitol Advantage we’ll be able to inform, educate and persuade our lawmakers on the issues that matter most to us with just a few mouse clicks and in a fraction of the time needed in previous campaigns. 

What’s next? A federal program extending tax credits to foreign companies who shoot, edit and score their projects in the U.S.? The creation of a dedicated funding line for arts education in New York City public schools to ensure every child gets a quality, well-rounded education? With our resources and partnerships, the possibilities are limited to our collective determination and our creativity. In other words, endless.