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Archive for the 'Thoughts and Observations' Category

NEA Chair Jane Chu captures Rhode Island in sketch

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

Not only is National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu a great advocate and spokesperson for the arts; she is also a terrific artist herself.  When she travels throughout the country on NEA business she takes her sketchbook with her.  One of the coolest things is when she does a sketch of a significant place she’s visited.

Chairman Chu has visited Rhode Island twice.  Her first official visit as Chairman was to Rhode Island.  She understands that Rhode Islanders value the arts, and it’s fair to say that she enjoys her visits to the Ocean State for that – and other – reasons.

So we were thrilled to receive two recent sketches from Chairman Chu depicting Rhode Island scenes.  Here they are:

The Chairman visited The Steel Yard in Providence during her October 2015 visit.  She had the opportunity to tour the facility with Rhode Island’s entire Congressional delegation and with Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza.  Her sketch depicts an interior shop scene at this artist-run institution.

The Chairman’s second sketch is of a facility near and dear to most Rhode Islanders:  The Modern Diner in Pawtucket.  If we believe in the culinary arts – and who in Rhode Island doesn’t worship the culinary arts? – then the Chairman has captured in her sketch one of our culinary art temples.  I believe that Senator Jack Reed introduced her to the legendary breakfasts at The Modern Diner during her first visit in August 2014.  It’s no wonder she wanted to keep a memory of that experience.

Thanks to Chairman Chu and the National Endowment for the Arts staff for sharing these with us.  We hope the Chairman will return to Rhode Island soon to sketch something new.

Randy Rosenbaum, Executive Director, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts




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Innovative Cultural Uses of Urban Space – Adaptive Reuse

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013
Adaptive reuse concerns the acquisition and rehabilitation of spaces for development into cultural venues
and particularly concerns those spaces that were not initially built for creative sector purposes (former
industrial buildings, firehouses, schools, churches) or that were built for a previous cultural use and
repurposed for a new one (former vaudeville houses, movie theaters).
In many of the case studies noted below, the decision to acquire and develop an adaptive reuse facil
ity was as much an inspired, creative decision as a practical one connected to plans for organizational
growth. Indeed, in almost every instance the process of taking on an adaptive reuse project inspired
change for the nonprofit cultural organization in turn: affecting programs and funding priorities, devel
oping alliances and stakeholder relationships, and even altering its relationship to creative sector peers.
The transformative nature of making a home through adaptive reuse can be profound.
While references and images are noted throughout this report, additional videos, links, and other con
tent on the organizations and projects discussed can be found on the NOCD Adaptive Reuse Tumblr site
Read the whole report here:



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“Words to the Wise” on Advocacy

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

Just a shout-out to the good folks at Strange Attractor Theatre for this comment in their recent newsletter:

We are honored to have been awarded a grant for Enlightenment on E Floor North from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. This funding is invaluable to us and lets us keep making work in Rhode Island with Rhode Islanders (just as our AK funding keeps bringing us to Alaska!) No matter where you live, remember to send your elected officials a note from time to time encouraging them to continue supporting state funding for the arts. Drops in the bucket create big waves and we need to ensure those drops keep flowing.

It’s what we refer to as “words to the wise” in these difficult times.




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Humanities Council Welcomes New Director

Friday, December 21st, 2012

RISCA is thrilled to announce the news that our friends at the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities have chosen a new Executive Director:  Elizabeth Francis.

New RICH Executive Director Elizabeth Francis

To quote from the RICH release:

Elizabeth comes to the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities with a background in fundraising as well as in education and history. As a director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Brown University, she connected university thought leaders with institutional partners to support people and projects, many of which have contributed to the vitality of Rhode Island.

“RICH is well-known not only as a funder of but as an advocate for projects and organizations that inspire and engage people throughout the state, ” Francis said. “I look forward to building on these strengths and to expanding our ability to help bring Rhode Island’s vibrant heritages to light, to catalyze innovation, and contribute to the state’s progress and development.”

Elizabeth will begin at the Council in mid-January.  To see the full announcement, visit the RICH website at http://www.rihumanities.org/node/2405

All of us here at RISCA send our best wishes to RICH and to Elizabeth for a smooth transition.



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University of Chicago Releases TARC Report – Confirms Importance of Teaching Artists

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Teaching artists (TAs)—artists who make teaching a part of their professional practice as artists—are critical to the future of arts education and to improving the quality of schools. These are two of the conclusions of the Teaching Artists Research Project, a three-year study by NORC at the University of Chicago that is the most comprehensive examination of the work and world of teaching artists.

To see the full report go to this link: http://www.norc.org/NewsEventsPublications/PressReleases/Pages/teaching-artists-found-critical-to-future-of-arts-education.aspx

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Selling tickets with a positive twist

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

From the Chicago Artist Resource website:

recent article in Time Out Chicago reported on the new monthly membership at Theatre Wit, which provides unlimited admissions to the three-stage venue for a low monthly fee of 36 dollars. With this flat rate monthly fee, Theatre Wit is (to their knowledge) one of only three theaters in the US seeking to reinvent the traditional theater subscription with a Netflix model of theater patronage.

But there is a second prong to Theatre Wit’s pricing strategy. They recently introduced dynamic pricing for their single ticket sales, meaning that they reward patrons who are willing to book their tickets in advance, while raising prices incrementally according to the demand for any given performance. In recent years, dynamic pricing has become an increasingly common practice at large performing arts organizations such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and in those contexts it has proven to be very successful. As the example of Theatre Wit shows, this practice is now also making its way in smaller storefront theaters around Chicago.

An interesting take on the challenges of selling tickets during challenging times.  Check out the whole article here.

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Check out this nice video commemorating Pawtucket’s 125th birthday

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Happy Birthday, Pawtucket!

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Congrats to Nick Benson for his work on MLK Memorial in DC

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Nicholas Benson, owner and creative director of the John Stevens Workshop in Newport, recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” grant and a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, has just work on the recently unveiled Martin Luther King National Memorial in Washington, DC.

Nick has been involved impressive array of national projects.  According to his entry in Wikipedia, “His carvings can be found in the National Gallery of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, at Brown University and the National World War II Memorial, in Washington, D.C.”

While the review in the Huffington Post of the MLK Memorial was lukewarm, they did have praise for Nick Benson’s work:

To be fair, the King Memorial has its strengths. It is admirably coherent, in a way the new World War II Memorial is not, and the landscaping elegantly surrounds and highlights the adjacent Tidal Basin. The inscriptions, set in a custom typeface designed by the stone carver Nick Benson, manage to convey both extraordinary gravitas and a modern energy.

So congratulations, Nick, on your involvement in yet another important national project!



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Crowdfunding for Artists in Detroit – article

Monday, August 15th, 2011

In anticipation of RISCA’s free PAD workshop on Crowdfunding, lead by RocketHub CEO Brian Meece, check out this article from the Detroit Free Press on how artists in Detroit are using this online tool for their art projects: http://www.freep.com/article/20110807/ENT05/108070345/1035/rss04

Then be sure to register for: 

Raising Money through Crowdfunding with Brian Meece, Wednesday, September 7, 4:00 – 6:00 PM at the AS220 Performance Space, 155 Empire St, Providence 

To register click here

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Steven Feinberg receives George M. Cohan Award

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Steven Feinberg, Director of the RI Film & TV Office, receives the George M. Cohan Award from the RI International Film Festival


I’m happy to report that our friend and colleague Steven Feinberg, the director of the Rhode Island Film & TV Office, received recognition at last evening’s Rhode Island International Film Festival for his extraordinary work over the past several years in revitalizing the film community here in the Ocean State.

The award, named after famed Providence entertainer George M. Cohan, aims to recognize “outstanding artists whose work, passion and drive epitomizes a level of excellence that reflects creatively on their Rhode Island roots.”

Steven has done that, and more…

Steven has – almost singlehandedly – made the film business a strong and viable part of the Rhode Island economy.   Rhode Island was the first New England state to establish a motion picture tax incentive program (the “film tax credit”). It was designed as an incentive to attract business to our state, and it’s been very successful in doing that: for the period from 2005 to 2009 4,184 jobs were created and total economic activity was $465.51 million as a result of state-issued tax credits of $56.7 million, according to Economic Impact of the Motion Picture Tax Credit On the Rhode Island Economy For the Years 2005 – 2009 by Edward M. Mazze, Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration at the University of Rhode Island.

We can look at the series “Brotherhood” or “Body of Proof”, or movies like “Dan in Real Life” or “Evening” or  ”27 Dresses” and take pride when we spot Rhode Island locations (even if they’re disguised as other places).

What you don’t see is how hard Steven works to make this happen.  It is a constant juggling act, worthy of “Barnum & Bailey”, to keep all the people at the table (or who think they should be at the table) happy and willing to work here rather than somewhere else, where they could actually get more financial “incentives” to move their business to some “non-Rhode Island” location.  It’s the personal attention they get from Steven (and from his wonderful staff, Carol Conley and Lew Place) that keeps them here, as much as it is our wonderful and diverse locations.

So, on behalf of all of us here at the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, we’re pleased and honored to be partners and colleagues with the Rhode Island Film & TV Office, and congratulate Steven on his award.

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Happy Birthday, ADA!

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Claire, Hannah and I went to the Roots Cafe in DownCity Providence last night to join Jeannine Chartier – the intrepid director of VSA arts of Rhode Island – and a bunch of other folks for a birthday party for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This landmark legislation has helped to provide access and equality for literally millions of Americans with disabilities, and has written new chapters in the ongoing struggle to provide access for all Americans to what this country has to offer.


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Social media and the ‘net provide new ways to engage, involve audiences

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

John Killacky, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, VT

One of the highlights of my attendance at the recent summer board meeting of the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) was a talk by my friend John Killacky, who currently runs the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vermont.  John has for many years been “the smartest guy in the room”, particularly where new and innovative directions for the arts were concerned.

The smartest thing I did was to record John’s talk.  While the whole hour-plus session is a little too big to post, I did excerpt several sections to give you a taste of what he was conveying.  If you’re interested in the whole thing drop me a line at randall.rosenbaum@arts.ri.gov and I’ll try to find a way to get it to you.

Anyway, John’s talk was about how we as arts producers and presenters need to understand and embrace the way people nowadays use social media and the Internet — through a variety of means, including tools like smartphones — to engage with the arts.  This is particularly important, since many arts organizations look at new media simply from a marketing perspective.  It’s so easy for us to use Facebook and Twitter as ways to promote our events.  It’s harder to understand their use as an exciting new way to engage audiences, and to make them more committed to the work and to the organization.

So, here’s some of what John shared with us.  First on the point that “it’s not about pushing [information] out using Facebook, it’s about pulling people in…”

I continue to be surprised by how pervasive Internet use is, and how many people use social media as a principle means of communication and arts participation

If the Internet is a way for people to engage with the arts (and commit to an arts organization that permits that level of engagement), then curators and artistic directors need to understand how to use the Internet to encourage and support this level of engagement…

Here’s just one example of how the Flynn promotes a higher level of engagement:  the work they do with a Young Playwrights Festival in Burlington, a program of Vermont Stage Company…

Final clip.  One of John’s passions is the TV series “Glee“.  Aside from being great fun, there’s a lot for the arts community to learn from the way the producers of this series open up access to the program and its work to promote closeness and allegiance to the program.  This, they’ve found, translates into more CD sales and attendance at concert tours.  In the past a recording artist or program would invoke copyright laws to “protect” their artistic work.  Take a listen…

So, this is just a taste of what John shared with us.  Again, if you want the whole thing drop me a line.  Look forward to hearing your observations…

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Public art with a cool message…

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Providence Journal photo / Tatiana Pina A recycled refrigerator in Burnside Park is now a work of art by Joshua Baptista.

Check out this cool story (no pun intended) from the Providence Journal on ”The Fine Art of Recycling – Saving is an Art,” meant to create public awareness of a program that offers incentives and rebates to consumers who responsibly recycle their old refrigerators and freezers.

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Providence’s innovative arts department is confident about the future

Monday, June 13th, 2011

PROVIDENCE — In 2003, the City of Providence and its then-newly elected mayor, David N. Cicilline, did something that few American cities have ever done: they created a new public agency, the Department of Art, Culture and Tourism, to oversee arts-related events and activities. At the stroke of a pen, art, music and theater joined public safety and pothole repair on the list of basic city services.

Eight years later, a lot has changed.


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The art of disguising cell phone towers

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Here’s something worth talking about here in Rhode Island:

Click here to read The Art of Disguising Cellphone Towers
What would you rather have: crappy cellphone service, or cellular towers scarring every visible surface? The two are at odds, but, thankfully, there are companies whose entire business is making those radio-wave spreaders disappear. And they’re great at it.
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RISCA-supported Mural Unveiled at Jesse Smith Library in Harrisville

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

I was delighted to attend the unveiling Saturday of a new mural in the Children’s Department of the lovely Jesse Smith Library in Harrisville, RI (the link show some images of the library from our Film and TV Office website).

This mural, by artist Yetti Frenkel (pictured above with the mural), is titled “The Mill on the Clear River”, and it depicts the history of the library site, which, it turns out, includes a fabric mill that produced fabric for the uniforms of our armed services for both World Wars.  It was particularly interesting to hear the artist talk about the design elements, which convey a rich sense of the history of the area.

Librarian Sandra Mundy was kind to invite me, and I was impressed with the way the library has used the arts to enliven its space.  The new mural is a companion to another wonderful mural by Ms. Frenkel entitled “The Four Seasons on the Clear River”, which is located in the Young Readers area on the second floor.  This mural depicts the animal and wildlife that populate the area, organized by season.

Nice job, all, and certainly worth a visit!


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Turn to 10′s Arts Blog – check it out

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

We’re always happy to promote a fellow arts blog (and blogger) here in Rhode Island.  So you should check out NBC 10′s arts blog at http://www2.turnto10.com/blogs/arts-all-around/.  It’s edited by Lori Solinger, a self-described arts fanatic.

Lori is always on the lookout for a good story (did I mention she’s also a segment producer at the TV station?), so if you have a good story to share be sure to contact her via email at LSolinger@wjar.com.


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NEA highlights Providence arts and youth in its national magazine

Monday, February 21st, 2011

The wonderful work being done in the arts in the City of Providence was highlighted in this month’s NEA Arts magazine, appropriately entitled “In the Neighborhood – Arts & Community”.  Check out the article here.

The article looks at the work being done by organizations like Community Musicworks, New Urban Arts, the AS220 Youth Project, Everett Dance Theatre and others, with particular emphasis on working with youth “at risk.”

When asked why the arts are uniquely positioned to work with this population AS220 Youth Director Anne Kugler said, “We couldn’t have the relationships we have with the kids without the arts. It’s a way of connecting with very, very disconnected, hard-to-engage youth in a way that doesn’t feel like a program with adults telling them what to do.” The young people are able to see in the artist mentors a model for living and a way of being creative. “It is a revelation for them.”

Check out the article, and support this fine work.

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Rocco’s visit

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

There’s been lots of cool stuff on the blogosphere about NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman’s visit to Rhode Island last Friday.  I thought I’d tag two of them.

First, there’s Rocco’s own blog entry, on the NEA blog entitled “Art Works”.  The entry, entitled “Postcard from Rhode Island“, describes the Chairman’s visit to the Ocean State.

A couple of my favorite quotes from his posting:

“Rhode Island is a small state, but it’s totally an arts state. You know, I would say, per capita, it’s the artiest state in the country. Everybody there gets it—in the private sector, in the political structure. I had an amazing two days there.”

“So what can we learn from Rhode Island? Well, I think Rhode Island is really an old line industrial state, with a lot of the old economy being phased out. And it really is at a point where we can start to visualize how the old economy can be transformed into a new economy through the arts. I think Providence and other cities in Rhode Island are going to come back and the arts are going to be a big part of that.”

I also just received a posting from Riverzedge Arts Project in Woonsocket, entitled “Rocco’s Breakfast with Andre“.  The title refers to the presentation made by Riverzedge during Rocco’s Friday morning session with the arts community at the Rhode Island Foundation.  Andre Oliviera, a 19-year-old photography studio participant in the Riverzedge program, described in inspiring terms how a program like Riverzedge has changed his life.  The posting quotes Andre, and so shall I:

“At Riverzedge, we are given all sorts of tasks to work on, from personal practice to important jobs for clients and the community. But what makes Riverzedge special is that we are paid to do these jobs. This motivates us to work harder, and that hard work develops into a great product for the client and community, and they get what they paid for. This creates a ripple affect, where everyone involved is affected in a positive economic way.

But what’s more important, is what this work does in our hearts.

This is our “job”, so we can proudly tell friends and family, “I am an artist” or “I am a Photographer.” It’s that sense of achievement we feel in our hearts, that makes us feel important, and, that feeling is more valuable than a paycheck. Before Riverzedge, I had dropped out of high school and spent all my time playing video games. My mom kept bugging me to get a job, but all I wanted to do was get to the next video game level. Now, I am working on my associates degree at CCRI and interviewing for IT jobs.”

Good stuff.  Good visit.

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Ruminations on Appropriations (and a special visit to Rhode Island)

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

It’s been an interesting couple of days here in Rhode Island, particularly when you juxtapose certain events with news items.

As many of you know, President Obama has presented his 2012 budget to Congress, and it contains considerable cuts in the arts and humanities.  Here’s something from a recent statement by Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch:

“The administration request of $146 million for the National Endowment for the Arts is a decrease of $21 million from the $167.5 million that Congress appropriated last year. The arts community recognizes the shared sacrifice being asked of all federal agencies to help reduce our national debt and is willing to do its part.  President Obama had acknowledged in his State of the Union that it was time to prioritize and identify the programs and agencies that work and invest in them to ‘win the future.’ The NEA is one of those agencies. It helps create jobs and drive economic activity by leveraging modest but critical funds at the state and local level and is part of the solution to returning our economic vitality.”

And here’s a look at what this means, from this year’s appropriation (still a continuing resolution, not a real appropriation) to the President’s proposal for next year:

Key Federally Funded Arts Program FY 2010 Enacted
(in millions)
FY 2012 President’s
Budget Request
(in millions)
National Endowment for the Arts $167.5 $146
National Endowment for the Humanities $167.5 $146
Institute of Museum and Library Services $32* $32
U.S. Dept. of Education’s Arts in Education $40 $0**
Corporation for Public Broadcasting $460 $451
*  The FY10 Office of Museum Services (IMLS) budget also included $16.3 million in congressional earmarks, not included in our figure.
** Similar to last year’s administration budget proposal, the Arts in Education program is consolidated with six non-arts programs. It is unclear at what level grants in arts education will be supported.

It was interesting to hear this news following a very productive visit to Rhode Island from National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman last Friday.  Organized by our wonderful U.S. Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse (who spent the whole day with the Chairman – how many times has a U.S. Senator devoted a whole day to anything?), Rocco got a chance to see how Rhode Island buys into his theme of “Art Works“.

Senator Whitehouse, Chairman Landesman, Randy Rosenbaum of RISCA, and Keith Stokes, Executive Director of the RI Economic Development Corporation

A morning session at The Rhode Island Foundation gave the Chairman a sense of how well Rhode Islanders understand the value of the arts.  We “get” (using the Chairman’s phrase) that arts jobs are real jobs, and that those jobs help to generate income for Rhode Island’s economy.  It was great to hear Keith Stokes from the RI Economic Development Corporation also stress their believe that the arts are an important player in our state’s economy, and that our new Governor, Lincoln Chafee, also understands the need to invest and grow this sector.

Following the morning session with members of the arts community, we all went to visit the Rhode Island School of Design.  This was a cool visit in many ways.   We stopped in at one of RISD’s technology studios, where students have used a wall sized computer device similar to the screens used in the movie Minority Report to create and manipulate images. Chairman Landesman put on the gloves to try it out himself.

We also visited the RISD Nature Lab, a wonderful space full of creatures (most stuffed or preserved) that help train art students in the shapes and biology of living creatures.  Senator Whitehouse was intrigued by the skull of a whale.

RISD President John Maeda hosted a lunch with the Chairman, Senator Whitehouse, and the Mayors of Cranston, Pawtucket, Warwick and the Chief of Staff for Mayor Tavares of Providence.  (Here Chairman Landesman is meeting Mayor Avedesian of Warwick).  This was a great opportunity to make the case that the arts and design can help cities and towns in many ways – certainly making them more attractive and liveable, but also – as President Maeda pointed out – helping Mayors communicate vital information to their citizens in clear and direct ways through the power of design.  We can build on this with these leaders.

The next visit, and perhaps the one that was most meaningful to the Chairman as a theatre person, was a visit to Trinity Rep, our state’s repertory theatre company.  Here a group of theatre artists – currently performing Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” – told the Chairman how important it was for artists to live and work in a community.  Sure, the theatre contributes to our state’s economy (and Trinity had the owners of several nearby businesses and parking establishments there to underscore that point).  But the actors and production staff are all Rhode Islanders, living and earning and contributing to live in our state.  This was an important point to consider as we think how “Art Works” in Rhode Island and elsewhere.

From Trinity Rep we went to visit Gallery Z in Providence’s Federal Hill, where the Chairman met several artists who are part of the Networks program organized by Dr. Joseph Chazan.   After that, a visit to the East Providence home of the Rhode Island Philharmonic and Music School, where the Chairman saw firsthand how a symphony orchestra, committed to excellence and its own series of performances, can be equally committed to training the next generation of artists and audiences, regardless of their economic situation.

Finally, a visit to Pawtucket to see how an entire city commits itself to the arts as a way to turn around a community.  The Chairman and Senator visited Hope Artiste Village, an old mill building that has reinvented itself as a creative community for artists and craftspeople, just one example in a city full of creative energy.

I guess the reason I spent time documenting the Chairman’s visit is to underscore the irony of the efforts going on in Washington to either reduce or completely eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (and the Humanities Endowment).  Sure these are difficult times.  But for literally pennies (frankly, half pennies), our governments – state and federal – get an incredible deal.  They get unparalleled economic vitality.  They get strong, documented value to education for all our citizens.  And they get a remarkable quality of life.

Here in Rhode Island arts funding at the state level is 7/100ths of one percent of all state general fund spending.  The result is hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity, not to mention a state we all love living in.

Stop the foolishness.  Recognize the arts for what they contribute to us all, and support them, particularly during these difficult times.

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