Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ronda Storms: Right-Wing Rebel in Search of a Cause

To our dear friends in Florida. Don't be distracted by the message, focus on the goals of the messenger. After all, that is why she's pulling this stunt, for the political attention it will bring her. The very least you can do is pay her some.

Artinfo.com and Artnet.com both report on a bill introduced by Florida state senator Ronda Storms that is so terribly transparent it would be hysterical if it wasn't playing off the economic fears of Floridians. She's calling to repeal a law that provides funding for art in new state-funded buildings (a half-percent, up to $100,000). Florida is facing a $3 billion deficit and clearly needs to make tough choices. Still, there's a hurricane of opportunism pushing this effort through the legislature.

According to artinfo.com, Storms has said (of the art funding) "This is an example of fat. This is a luxury." and "Do I pay for art instead of paying for care for an abused kid?" It's hard to argue with that. (Although it does make one wonder whether Storms has actually sponsored legislation to strengthen care for abused kids. Anyone?)

But according to Artnet [citing the St. Petersburg Times]:
[T]his is something of a pretext: Storms has a long-time axe to grind with public art: she introduced a failed bill to repeal percent-for-art funding last year, and was decrying the use of public funds for artwork as far back as 2006, when she was a lowly county commissioner.

Indeed, Storms strikes me as the typical wedge issue politician who sees the culture war as her path to power and glory. Artnet explains:

She has supported legislation that makes marriage licenses more expensive for couples who don’t take a mandated "premarital education" course; mandates that women getting first trimester abortions be shown ultrasound images of their fetuses; prohibits the teaching of evolution in Florida schools; and allows "inspirational messages" -- prayer, that is -- in public schools.

Sadly, this time Storms tied her crusade against public funding for art to the public's fear of where the economy is heading (for a Flordian's take on how Storms tends to operate, see this commentator's insights here). Indeed, wherever you find wedge issues in Florida, you're likely to find Storms, it seems. She once infamously "objected to a library's display of books by homosexual authors during Gay and Lesbian Pride Month" because "whether we should have pride in homosexuality is a political perspective." (I suppose it is, but humans might also consider looking at it from, you know, a humanity perspective...but I digress.)

Back to arts funding, though. As one commenter on the Tampa Bay arts blog, Art Squeeze, wondered:
To paraphrase a friend, “doesn’t the omission of art from our public spaces constitute a form of child abuse also?”
I think that gives Ms. Storms' argument far too much credit, but I don't disagree with the sentiment.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous A.K. said...

You have articulated the underlying issues beautifully, as you always do. You've made me pause to consider how this line of reasoning may apply to our situation in Canada, where our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has been busy cutting arts funding left, right and centre (political pun intended). Easy enough to brand his motives as those of a philistine, who simply hates/is suspicious of art, artists, etc. I think you are right to suggest that it is more productive to analyze this sort of thing in terms of what it buys the politician in the form of media attention. It is an attention seeking stunt to be sure, but enormously destructive in its outcome.
As for the question "Do I pay for art instead of paying to care for an abused kid?"...no evidence here in Canada that money "saved" by arts cuts goes to fund social programs, either.

4/15/2009 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Ronda Storms. The name couldn't be any more Dickensian (well, unless it were Buncha Crappe).

4/15/2009 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous BenK said...

The public funding of art needs to be a priority regardless of our economic condition. In fact, one could make the argument that in a recession, supporting the arts takes on an even greater importance as we look for continuity and meaning. I do, however, have a problem with the particular stipulation Sen. Storms is attempting to repeal.

For years I've lived nearby a major state university and struggled as I've watched amateur artists commissioned to produce mediocre corporate art to satisfy the half-a-percent rule. With each campus building that's constructed, I have to sit by and watch tax payer money thrown hastily at people who can hardly call themselves artists.

I can't stand to see another piece of non-contextual, empty, corporate art thrown up in my town. While I may not agree with her motivations, I have to agree with Ronda's position on this one.

4/15/2009 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

It doesn't sound like it's the program, but rather the vetting process that's the problem, though, BenK. I think you could work to fix that before dismantling the whole spirit of the effort, no?

4/15/2009 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger jami said...

As a Florida resident, I will AGAIN be contacting my representatives. I have to agree with BenK on some of the works selected, but Ed makes the correct observation that it is a problem with the vetting process and not the program.

4/15/2009 12:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize this is somewhat unrelated, but your post made me think about the benefits a city/region reaps with public art. Chicago's public art certainly is an inspiration and proves that "proper" vetting can be hugely beneficial.

I found this fascinating and very detailed report regarding the New York City Waterfalls. The direct and indirect impact was $69 million!

www.nyc.gov/html/om/pdf/2008/waterfalls_economic_impact_report.pdf

-Margene

4/15/2009 03:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

(Although it does make one wonder whether Storms has actually sponsored legislation to strengthen care for abused kids. Anyone?)For what it's worth, her website informs us that she chairs the Florida "Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs."

Wikipedia provides more delicious details:
"Storms had an eight-year tenure on the Hillsborough County Commission (1998-2006), for which she is well known, and advanced a number of controversial issues. These issues included a fight against establishing the proposed Florida A&M University School of Law in Tampa, a campaign in favor of the sterilization of men and women convicted of child abuse, eliminating county-appropriated money for Planned Parenthood, and perhaps most publicized, her crusade for the county to officially abstain from recognizing gay and lesbian events held inside county lines, which was passed in June 2005 despite vocal opposition, most notably from openly gay nude dance club proprietor Joe Redner. She is also recognized by her quick tongue and often scathing sarcastic remarks, many of which she does not retract, stating 'I am not apologizing for who I am.'"

Ironically, one of her "recreational" activities as listed on her website is "collecting local art."

4/15/2009 06:26:00 PM  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

I guess all the State money plied into Lehman Brothers by consultant Jeb Bush is having an affect. Wonder where Rhonda stood on that decision - those were Hurricane relief funds, first responders, State pensions, etc.

4/19/2009 11:22:00 PM  
Anonymous media and documentary consultant Therese Long said...

Secret Storm

4/20/2009 06:59:00 AM  

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