In Recovery: Higher Power of Federal Funding

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama said that independent public media producers deserve credit for American progress.

Well…he didn’t say those exact words, but if you read between these lines, maybe you’ll hear what I hear:

“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.”

Certainly, indie pubmedia people, members of AIR, are among the “risk-takers, doers, makers of things,” who work without seeking “the pleasures of riches and fame.”

The long, rugged path towards prosperity Obama spoke of has no doubt taken a turn for the worse in the face of recession, mortgage crisis, high unemployment, bank bailouts, state budget shortfalls, sky-rocketing personal debt, rising college tuition, shrinking endowments, Bernie Madoff, and the list of fiscal woes goes on and on, as detailed in the public media collaboration the

Last year, Congress passed the American Recovery and Re-investment Act, a.k.a. The Recovery Act. It was (and is) a massive federal investment ($787 Billion) aimed at rebuilding the economy and the country from the bottom up. So, that begs the question: Are you stimulated? Have you been touched by the tentacles of this new deal? 


Trickling Down 

The world of public media has benefitted from federal largesse. One avenue of that support has been through the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA gave direct grants “to support the preservation of jobs that are threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downtown.”

Let’s do the numbers: NEA gave out 33 grants of $25K or $50K totaling $1.4 million dollars to Media Arts organizations.  

Among them: Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), Culture Works Ltd, From the Top, Kitchen Sisters, Beale Street Caravan, Newark Public Radio, World Music Productions (AfroPop), National Public Radio/NPR, Public Radio International/PRI, Minnesota Public Radio/MPR, and National Federation of Community Broadcasters/NFCB.

The beneficiaries included 4 members of AIR: Sid Selvidge (Beale Street), Steve Rowland (Culture Works), Davia Nelson & Nikki Silva (Kitchen Sisters), as well as 4 institutional AIR members all of which employ many AIR members: NPR, PRI, MPR, L.A. Theatre Works. Other recipients include groups that produce or train others in film and video.

It’s not exactly a Works Progress Administration-sized investment, but it could help build a bridge between recession and, hopefully, a time when “Happy Days are Here Again.”


This is What Recovery Looks (and Sounds) Like

Good news for fans of data visualization and government transparency: President Obama has recruited Edward Tufte, described as the “Leonardo da Vinci of Data” and the “Galileo of Graphics” to serve on an independent advisory panel that helps track and tell the story of the Recovery Act. (Tufte’s exhibit at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in CT closes on April 17.) 

And, since I mentioned the WPA, let me point your browser to some cool things to look at and listen to:

A post today from Maria Popova on her Brain Pickings blog commemorates the 75th anniversary of the WPA, which put many artists, including radio producers and dramatists to work during the Great Depression. The post includes a link to a flickr archive of colorful and muscular WPA graphic posters sure to inspire and provoke.  




















Also, Works Progress Administration/WPA is the name of an interesting and clever folksy musical collaboration, an LA-based band celebrates the collective spirit. WPA is on the playlist at AAA-powerhouse station WXPN  in Philadelphia and has been called a “superior supergroup” by the World Cafe.

Learn more about the original WPA by checking out these recent public radio programs:

American RadioWorks Bridge to Somewhere: Lessons from the New Deal, by Catherine Winter.

Building Bridges Radio’s edition on WPA’s Federal Theater Project

And, of course, lest we forget StoryCorps, which is modeled after the oral histories recorded as part of the WPA. You can download and read this fascinating, moving paper comparing and connecting the two projects. It’s written by self-described “public radio junky” Deborah Levheim, librarian/archivist.

P.S. If you know of other public media that’s been stimulated by the stimulus, let me know in comments below.