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Convergence, Depressions, And The WPA

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On January 5, 1999, the Weekly World News published a cover story titled, "Crisis Alert! Great Depression by March!" The subheads, split by a torn $100 bill featuring a bemused-looking Ben Franklin, read:

"Will you survive the coming financial chaos?" and in all caps, "WORLD ECONOMIC COLLAPSE LOOMS, WARN WALL STREET INSIDERS."

In case all that didn't get the point across "? and because hey, service journalism sells "? the News cover also advised: "Horde food? Hide cash? & PREPARE FOR THE WO-"

(Presumably, that last word was "worst" but that corner of the pub didn't survive the TTLA archives.)

Anyway, back ten years ago, TTLA put into a file folder that story plus a few pages of notes about the Federal Art Project, Federal Writers Project, documentary photos, oral histories, poster-making, bridge-building, and the like.

That folder was labeled "Call For A New Great Depression / WPA." And in those dot-com days, it seemed like an easy, distant enough modest proposal to pitch an editor, snarkily calling for global financial calamity and then for a second WPA.

Well, Happy Days Are Here Again.

From, reportedly, Peter Sellars, to Arlene Goldbard, to the cover of L.A.-based Artillery magazine, it seems that old Weekly World News -inspired swell is returning. And this time, out of crisis.

If there's billions of TARP dollars for financial and manufacturing and housing sectors, the basic question goes, what about for the arts?

And backing up a moment, a related question that's likely to be considered prior to any decisions about how much money ought to be spread around is, what is the economic impact of arts and culture?

A few months ago, during a conference held at the Skirball Cultural Center, Otis College of Art and Design presented their second annual attempt to supply just such a quantitative, local answer.

Titled, "Report on the Creative Economy of the Los Angeles Region," and researched and written by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, the report's front page "fast facts" include:

"*One of the largest business sectors in the region. *Nearly 1 million direct and indirect jobs in Los Angeles and Orange counties. *More than $3.8 billion in state tax revenues generated. *Nearly $100 billion in sales/receipts in Los Angeles County."

The full report is available here, at the Arts4LA website. Arts4LA is the non-profit advocacy group "? not a think tank "? that organized the October 1, 2008 conference where the "Creative Economy" paper was issued. The conference was titled, "The 2008 Arts Leadership Convergence: 2 Years / 11 Goals. Charting the Course for the Arts in Los Angeles."

At the conference, TTLA spent a few minutes during one break with Carlos Barron, an L.A. County Arts Commissioner. Barron pointed out that the region's creative workforce ranges from performers on stage to physical therapists who help keep them there, to attorneys and accountants working in the entertainment industry.

(Side note: Do a quick search for "creative" and "accounting" and "entertainment industry" and the usual results are more like this.)

Back to Barron. Per the conferences "convergence" theme, the commissioner said the following:

"I think that the meat on the bones of what the arts is as viable member of our society, impacting the business world but also the creative business world. This report gives us that avenue to have that conversation. The question is, are we together to do this? Are we talking the same language?"

More from Barron soon...And more on what think tanks are saying about the financial crisis.

Photo Credit: The image accompanying this post was taken by Flickr user edkohler. It was used under Creative Commons license.

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