Friday, June 18, 2010

Onorato's Arts and Culture Policy Statement

A recent addition to Dan Onorato’s library of issue statements is his plan for arts and culture. Onorato is the Democratic candidate for governor; he has a number of details policy statements on his website, most running several pages.. His Republican opponent, Tom Corbett, has several paragraph-long statements on his site (the economy statement is more than one paragraph), but none on the arts and culture.

The economy is a primary driver in this race, which may account for the emphasis on money in Onorato’s statement. Here is an excerpt from the plan’s introduction:

Pennsylvania’s art and cultural institutions are also major drivers of tourism – one of the Commonwealth’s most important industries. In 2007, visitors to Pennsylvania generated a total of $2.8 billion in state and municipal tax revenue – equivalent to more than 10% of the state budget. Tourism advertising and promotions from the state is important and spurs economic activity across the Commonwealth. But as a result of the economic downturn, Pennsylvania has dropped from 5th highest promotional spending to 25th over the last two years – making it harder for small businesses and cultural institutions to attract visitors and succeed.

Onorato spells out his involvement in the arts and culture in Allegheny County, where he is the county executive; one example is the creation of the Cultural District in downtown Pittsburgh. His four primary policy points are:
1. Establish a climate where arts and cultural enterprise can succeed;
2. Encourage heritage and cultural tourism;
3. Ensure that Pennsylvania’s creative industries and artists can thrive; and
4. Make art and arts education experiences accessible to as many people as possible.

The bullet points under the first category are all economic, state funding, public-private partnerships, attract investment and tourism, increase access to federal funding, and the importance of statewide outreach and activities.

As for encouraging heritage and cultural tourism, he touches again on economics, such as tourism as economic development, regional marketing initiatives, coordinating resources for historical venues (such as offering web-based tools)

His third point, ensuring creative industries and arts can thrive, also starts out with incentives for private enterprise. Onorato supports the sometimes controversial film tax credit. He would also establish a historic preservation tax credit, funded by Growing Greener 3 and the proposed Marcellus Shale severance tax. he would encourage “creative enterprises” to use small business development programs. Lastly he would support workforce development, which he defines as access to job training programs and working with community colleges and universities that specialize in the arts.

His last part has a broader base and looks at the arts and culture as educational and not solely economic resources. He would ensure that children have access to arts and music education, including academic standards and a model curriculum. Encouraging relationships between schools and non-profits in the arts would benefit both the artistic organizations and the schools. His final point is making the arts more accessible to all Pennsylvanians.

Like all of Onorato’s policy statements this one is detailed if dry, and focused on economic aspects. The intrinsic value of the arts is touched upon but not the primary point. There is also very little on the artists themselves, other than as corporate entities – non profit organizations or business owners, but there is a limit to what government can do. Other topics not mentioned are aspects of public art, and encouraging personal and community art, though those may be considered part of arts education or small businesses. Mr. Onorato has an accounting background and that does come across. He is tackling the issue as primarily a funding problem and artists will tell you that is always a concern; he is also sensitive to the constant need for revenue sources at almost all cultural businesses and nonprofit groups.

This is an interesting policy statement and everyone affiliated with or interested in cultural life in the state would do well to read it over.

Personal note: I had wondered if Onorato’s policy statement would mirror the arts and culture policy statement from Joe Hoeffel, one of Onorato’s primary opponents. Both encourage arts education and public / private partnerships. However, the tone an delivery of the two statements are different.

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