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Please Explain: More Crazy Numbers That Don’t Help

Americans for the Arts, the advocacy group, has a lot on its plate, including, once a week, sending out an email of news items called ArtsWatch. Last week’s edition, which arrived on
header_logo.gifWednesday, July 29, has been nagging at me. The numbers in the articles just don’t make sense. I’ve written the press office asking for an explanation, but have received no reply. So I’m posting the three items here — perhaps I’m crazy, and the numbers are right; if so, please explain. If not, these are more examples of funny numbers in the arts that don’t exactly inspire confidence (not to mention some pretty lazy reporting and/or writing).

Under the heading, “The Arts In Recession”:

Iowa: Federal Stimulus Funds Save Over 300 Arts Jobs
Quad-City Times, 7/22/2009

Nearly $500,000 in federal stimulus money is being spread to 18 arts organizations in 10 cities, preserving a total of 323 jobs according to Gov. Chet Culver’s office.

AND, from the same article/item:

The National Endowment for the Arts also approved $150,000 in stimulus money for arts organizations in Amana, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, and Dubuque. The governor’s office said the stimulus money preserved 34 full-time and 104 part-time jobs, as well as 185 contract positions.”

And, from:

Rhode Island: State Arts Council Receives Stimulus Money, Foundation Funds
The Providence Journal, 7/28/2009
“Governor Carcieri and members of the state congressional delegation has joined more than 100 members of the arts community to announce the arrival of nearly $300,000 in federal stimulus money for the arts. The Rhode Island Foundation contributed an additional $100,000 to the federal stimulus package, which allowed the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts to support a total of 18 organizations. The money will allow the recipients to restore or retain 77 positions in the arts, from free performances of Shakespeare in Westerly to after-school art teachers.

Do a little division, and those numbers yield salaries that are waaaay below the minimum wage, even leaving the part-time and contract jobs out of the calculation.

So, am I missing something?

It’s not Americans for the Arts’ job to correct newspaper reporting; but it doesn’t do much good to circulate silly numbers either.

You can read last week’s entire AFA newsletter here. And I’ve written about the need for better statistics and studies here.


  1. Wow, yes I think someone missed some zeros there. Or else the numbers of jobs being “saved” are out by a factor of ten (at least).
    It’s quite interesting from a British perspective to see such miniscule amounts being cause for celebration, and to see arts organisations managing to put things on with such tiny grants. I think there are many, many arts organisations wouldn’t get out of bed for a $100,000 over here.
    I mean that as a negative comment on our system. Many of these people seem to think that it’s perfectly normal to have an office full of trendy salaried marketing drones (good London salaries as well, $60,000 would not be an unusual salary I suspect – 40k in GBP). Sure, the posters and websites look very pretty but is the ART any good?!? Sometimes I think we could use a dose of American-style arts funding over here!

  2. With regard to the Iowa figures, NEA and the Governor are clearly claiming to have saved every job that received even partial help from Federal Stimulus funding. The salary and benefits for the position that we were able to retain at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art with help from $25,000 in Stimulus money definitely pays more than $25,000. But the stimulus money did go a long way toward making sure we didn’t lay anyone off (which we were on the verge of doing).

  3. Tom Freudenheim says:

    It’s this sort of half-baked information, which arts organizations keep putting forth, that adds to the low credibility of arts statistics in general. And it’s an additional reason that the only people who probably trust it are those who purvey it; to most of us, it’s just an amusing yawn.

  4. It is nice to see that you are alert to the phoney-baloney jobs that are put forth when stimulus funds are received. I’ve been waiting for somebody to notice that the number of stimulus jobs are grossly over-stated. This has been the case in federal, state and local boasting, not only in the art world.
    “Oh, we were thinking about layoffs, and the money allowed us to save a gazillion jobs.” In my parlance, “thinking” is not the same as actually handing out a pink slip, and then calling the employee back to work.
    Nevertheless, I am happy that these organizations received stimulus funds. But hey, they should do the math. Just because we are art types doesn’t mean that we can’t add. Thank you.

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