Wednesday, March 11, 2009

NY Jewish Culture Examiner: Q&A: FJC's Elise Bernhardt remains optimistic about arts funding despite weak economy

Some of us have lost jobs, many of us have seen our retirement savings shrink, most of us are tightening our budgetary belts. For decades philanthropic support has enabled Jewishfilmmakers, writers, playwrights, scholars and performing artists to enrich our community's cultural life. To find out how the weakening economy is affecting arts funding in the Jewish community I spoke to Foundation for Jewish Culture President and CEO Elise Bernhardt.
DC: How is the financial crisis affecting Jewish artists?
EB: Arts is the first thing to be hit, and that applies to Jewish arts as well, but artists are the most resourceful people. People have an even greater need for the arts during a crisis.
DC: Have you seen any change in the amount of funding you can offer arts projects?
EB: We expect a reduction in funding but it's too early  to tell how much lower our funding will be. 
DC: So far has FJC not had to tighten its budget?
EB: Our endowment has taken a hit so we're having to raise funds outside our endowment so as not to touch principle.
DC: If arts funding diminishes will audiences notice?
EB: There's a lag time between when we fund a project and when audiences see or hear it. We funded [Golden Globe winner and Oscar nominated Israeli film] "Waltzing With Bashir" two years ago. It's too soon to anticipate what we may or may not be able to fund later this year or next year, and those projects will only reach their audiences two or three years from now. I remain optimistic. We have a president who had a poet read at his inauguration and who values the arts. One funder said, "We can only fund arts that affect mental health." All art affects mental health.
DC: Do you see artists taking fewer risks in an economically precarious environment?
EB: I don't see artists shying away from controversy.
DC: Do you see artists making their work more accessible?
EB: Some artists may have to frame their work in a more public way.
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Turning from the non-profit sector to the business end of show business an agent who represents Israeli performers said in an off-the-record conversation that a dirth of gigs has led many Israeli bands and individual musicians to leave the United States and return to Israel where they have more opportunities to perform.

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