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Opera Advocacy: Not Just About Appropriation
Brandon Gryde, Director of Government Affairs, Dance/USA and OPERA America
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Original Content1/24/2012

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By now, most in the performing arts community have learned that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) received yet another cut for FY12. With the final funding amount at $145.979 million, the NEA has almost $9 million less this year on top of the $12 million cut in FY11.

These cuts were already reflected in the first round of Art Works grant allocations (in both the number and size of grants) and also in the change in FY13 guidelines with the elimination of consortium grants.

While funding for the NEA has been a flagship issue for the arts community and advocates, it’s important to know that this is not the only issue that the performing arts face in 2012. OPERA America represents the opera community in a wide array of issues — some that may be very familiar, and others that may be completely new.

Charitable Giving Incentives — In 2011, the OPERA America government affairs office spent more time on Capitol Hill working on this issue than on any other issue. As written in Public Value and the Bottom Line [], opera companies, on average, receive more than 50% of their revenues from private contributions. Changing the charitable deduction by lowering the cap or by turning it into a tax credit could be devastating to the sustainability of the nonprofit sector.

International Exchange — After years, of working with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to shorten visa processing times for foreign artists, arts organizations are reporting a fewer issues with their petitions. The State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA) has also responded to requests to increase the visibility of cultural exchange opportunities and to facilitate increased communication between U.S. artists and State Department employees abroad. OPERA America continues to urge Congress to direct additional funds ECA’s cultural exchange programs.

Technology and Communications — In 2010, unlicensed wireless microphone users, which include performing arts venues, were forced to move into a different range within the broadcast spectrum. For some wireless microphone users, this move came with large expenses as performing arts venues had to purchase new equipment adjusted to the new frequencies. The recently passed spending package for FY12 included language around future spectrum auctions, which could potentially lead to another move. Arts advocates are already educating Congress about how additional moves could cost arts organizations thousands of dollars.

As policy plays catch-up with technological advances, OPERA America has been working with other arts and non-arts groups to protect creativity, innovation and free speech online. Just last fall, Net Neutrality rules that aim to prevent Internet Service Providers from blocking content from potential competitors, became law. The newly proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its companion bill Protect IP Act (PIPA) aim to protect copyright holders but are far overreaching the intended scope and have the potential to actually inhibit creativity and innovation.

Public Value and Community Partnerships
— The public value argument for the arts is fast becoming a more prominent talking point and is being used to advocate for continued support for the NEA, but also to preserve the charitable deduction, and even to ensure that arts organizations can continue to claim tax exempt status. (Legislators are already examining the tax-exempt status of nonprofit hospitals and other organizations, such as AARP, and advocates are concerned that the arts are not far behind.) The OPERA America government affairs office has increased communication with the Corporation for National and Community Service to learn how performing arts groups can increase the visibility of programs that are improving communities through access to the arts, supporting educational initiatives, and addressing unmet, critical needs.

Why the rundown? In the coming year, OPERA America members will likely receive numerous action alerts from The Performing Arts Alliance (OPERA America is a founding member), Americans for the Arts and state arts advocacy organizations. OPERA America ensures that the opera field is represented in each one of these issues and works in ongoing collaboration with our friends at other national arts service organizations and non-arts nonprofits.

Three things you can   do to advocate on any of these issue:
  1. Visit The Performing Arts Alliance and sign up to receive action alerts if you don’t already;
  2. E-mail the government affairs office to learn more about any of these issues or to sign up for OPERA America’s advocacy listserv;
  3. Ask the government affairs office for assistance in setting up meetings with your Congressional leaders.
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