Little Bit Of Love For Intangible Benefits In Economic Reporting

Being a big proponent of libraries a radio story by Marketplace on the value of libraries caught my attention. Being an economics focused show, their analysis initially focused on return on investment:

Farrell: Well, there’s this recent study — this one grabbed my attention — [by] three economists [from] Montana State University, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Miami University. And they calculate by some measures a healthy return on investment. So among their findings, library capital investment increases children’s attendance at library events by 18%, children’s checkout of items by 21% and total library visits by 21%. Now, OK, that’s interesting, but increases in library use translate into improved children’s test scores in nearby school districts.

Long time readers know that I am also a proponent of not couching the value of everything in terms of economics and test scores so I was pleased that the reporters followed with a longer discussion of the intangible contributions libraries make to social cohesion:

Brancaccio: So there are interesting, almost hard-to-quantify benefits as well?

Farrell: That’s right. And that’s, you know, really the thing that stands out to me is we’re living through an era where there’s a lack of trust in so many institutions and, you know, the sense that we have connections with each other, I mean, that’s splintering. Well, public libraries are still trustworthy, community institutions and most important, public libraries are open to everyone. It doesn’t matter your age, it doesn’t matter your race, ethnicity, social class and net worth.

[…]

Farrell: And this is why I think the return on investment, particularly as you’ve mentioned, the return on investment on the intangibles, is so important. So a lot more needs to be done to maintain buildings, update bathrooms, increase the number of hours that they’re open, and there’s a wonderful book by sociologist Eric Klinenberg, “Palaces for the People.” And you know, in that book, he persuasively argues that libraries, the people who work there, and the people who visit that they’re essential to our democracy, and to our community. So support your local library.

Barriers To Equity Admission Are Suddenly Dropped

Big news today from Actors’ Equity Association  the union which represents stage actors and stage managers. The union basically immediately opened membership to anyone who has ever worked professionally as an actor or stage manager on production and ever will, along with members of associated sister unions like SAG-AFTRA, AGMA and AGVA. Anyone who currently in the member candidate program working toward their union card can immediately become a member with any fees already paid to the union counting toward their initiation dues.

It should be noted that the definition of working professionally seems to being paid any amount as long as you can provide a pay stub. The previous process was based on a certain number of hours worked on a production under a union contract.

The union says they are doing this as a step toward diversity and inclusion due to the high degree of self-selection that has existed in the hiring process:

But Equity theatres, like all entertainment industry employers, are disproportionately run by white people, and their programming and hiring decisions show that they often hold biases in favor of people from similar demographics. In fact, recent hiring studies demonstrate that Equity contracts are disproportionately offered to white people, and the majority of new members join via a contract.  Because our membership rules until now have left access to membership in employers’ hands, they have implicitly created a disproportionately high barrier to access for actors and stage managers of marginalized identities. We have inadvertently contributed to the systemic exclusion of people of color and people of other marginalized identities from the benefits of union membership.

In a Backstage article, Diep Tran quotes Equity President Kate Shindle as saying this is not a cash grab after the Covid shutdown:

But she is adamant that Open Access is not a “cash grab” to get more money into the union; Equity was affected in the last year when its members were unable to work because of COVID-19 and thus, pay into their union.

“I am telling you the God’s honest truth when I say that no part of this has felt like any kind of cash grab,” she says.

Shindle also admits that with this change, it may mean that auditions become “more crowded,” but she believes that overall, more members are a good thing: “We’re eager to look at the ways in which structural and systemic racism has permeated our industry and say, Okay, these are things we can just fix without anyone’s permission. We don’t have to have an industry summit in order to say it should be easier to join Equity if you want to join Equity.”

One of my colleague’s first reaction was to wonder if the influx of membership would help the union’s issues with health coverage. Back in April, actors were marching in protest against the union’s change in the number of weeks members had to work in order to receive health coverage, in addition to calling attention to racism, sexism, and unsafe work environments.

It will be interesting to see how this move plays out over the next few years. One of the biggest challenges will likely be broadening the appeal of union membership geographically. While it sounds like anyone who performed for a small stipend could become a member of Actors’ Equity, the restrictions on working on non-union shows may limit people’s opportunities to participate in local or regional productions.

For decades now the fact that acting opportunities were oriented in a few cities, particularly New York City, has been identified as a significant problem. (Call out to Scott Walters who often wrote on this subject.)  The joke about needing to move to NYC from Milwaukee in order to audition for a part in Milwaukee wasn’t far from the truth.

Equity is probably going to have to create new sets of rules that allow people to perform in myriad more circumstances than they currently are. The union was formed over 100 years ago to protect actors from exploitative situations and there are still many areas in which advocacy of a few broad basic work rules like the recent trend away from grueling rehearsal schedules can create new standards of practice.

 

Did Covid Suddenly Make You More Aware of Sidewalk Space?

The Americans for the Arts blog had an interview with an arts group that was flexing their skills to solve problems in their community. They spoke with Yin Kong, one of the founders of Think Chinatown which started the initiative Assembly for Chinatown to provide outdoor dining for restaurants in New York City’s Chinatown.

While restaurants in other parts of the city were able to find ways to cope with Covid restrictions by setting up dining on sidewalks or in dedicated parking spaces on the street, Chinatown has narrower sidewalks and streets. Regulations frequently changed and violations earned a $1,000 fine. Outdoor dining really hadn’t been part of the business practice among Chinatown restaurants so between physical restrictions, legal hurdles, and custom there was little incentive for the financially ailing restaurants for that neighborhood to pursue outdoor dining options.

Think Chinatown collaborated with A+A+A Studio to write a guide on how to build affordable structures that met Department of Transportation guidelines. Artists worked with business owners to decorate the structures in colorful murals.

We removed the financial risk for these restaurants by covering the construction costs. We selected restaurants where we believed the impact could most be felt. For the most part, the project has helped bring attention to businesses and provide more space.

We are still connected with the restaurants who participate—we do not drop these and leave. We live in the neighborhood and are here to adjust. For some murals, it has been almost a year [since they were created], so we are repainting. We want them to continue to be colorful, delightful work.

The Assembly for Chinatown page mentions the project has helped 13 businesses at nine sites. In some cases, adjacent businesses got wrapped into the effort. In one case, a restaurant, cafe and florist had a structure constructed. In another, a restaurant and neighboring tea importer shared a space.

The interview is short, but it is clear that the perceptual, legal, and logistical hurdles they faced required a lot of time and effort to navigate before the first two pieces of wood were attached together. They provided access where it didn’t exist or seemed difficult to achieve and got people thinking of new possibilities for doing business in their neightborhood.

Headlines Writing Checks That The Body Text Ain’t Really Cashing

Yesterday, economist Tyler Cowen addressed one of the dichotomies being recognized in the arts sector – the conflict between values of equity, fairness, diversity, etc., espoused in the arts world and the transactional nature of arts patronage. Discussions of how the arts are supported and funded are becoming an increasingly prevalent topic of conversation.

Cowen, who is most definitely an avowed supporter, consumer and advocate of the arts takes a bit of an academic analytical approach to the “wokeness” embodied in The Art Newspaper articles on visual art.

To put it bluntly, the art world is torn. In terms of demographics, the art world should lean fairly hard left, at least in the Anglo countries. It is highly educated, cosmopolitan, wealthy, and “aware” of the world. And many of the individuals operating in the art world do lean fairly strongly to the left. Yet the art world itself is based on principles fairly different from Woke and often directly opposed to Woke.

First and foremost, the art world is based on ownership of property. Most (by no means all) of those properties were created by dead white males, or perhaps by living white males.

Art markets typically are ruled by Power Laws and massive inequality, with most works going to zero value and a small percentage of the creators hitting it big…. Indeed, you earn status by showing how discriminating your eye is, which means by dumping on the works that aren’t going anywhere.

Textiles, which are arguably the “most female” genre in terms of their creators, are worth systematically much less in the marketplace…(…The same is true for some kinds of pottery as well….)

Some of the issues he addresses I was aware of but hadn’t thought of in the terms or context he expresses.

Part of the point of his post was illustrate there is a breadth of intellectual discourse about art & culture that doesn’t immediately gravitate toward the extremes of woke or anti-wokeness. Of The Art Newspaper he says, “It tries to incorporate Woke rhetoric into an essentially non-Woke and anti-Woke set of customs and incentives and property rights.”

You will have to read his analysis of how they achieve that balance in various articles he cites. Basically, he says the body of the articles turn out to be less controversial than the headlines suggest.

Some of the commenters to the post suggest that Cowen uses “woke” so frequently in the post because he is intentionally trying to beat all meaning and emotional associations out of the term.

Send this to a friend