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Trump Signs Budget Boosting NEA Funding by $3 Million—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week

01  U.S. President Donald Trump signed a 2018 budget bill that includes a $3 million funding increase for the National Endowment for the Arts.

(via CNN and the Washington Post)
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will see its budget rise to $152.8 million from $149.8 million under a federal budget passed by the U.S. Congress early Friday morning. The funding boost is a major victory for arts groups, especially given that the Trump administration initially sought to eliminate the NEA in a proposed budget. Under the newly signed budget, the National Gallery of Art will see a $1.04 million increase, while the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) also saw a $3 million bump. President Trump initially was expected to sign the $1.3 trillion budget after it passed with bipartisan support through Congress, but in a tweet Friday morning, he indicated he might veto the legislation because it doesn’t include a fully funded border wall or resolve uncertainty around the DACA program. But in a press conference later in the day, the President reversed course again, saying he signed the omnibus budget bill, though he called it a “ridiculous situation” and said he had reservations about the package. The bill will fund the federal government for the remainder of the 2018 fiscal year, which runs until September.

02  One of the curators of the Shenzhen Biennale has been removed because of misconduct allegations.

The decision to fire Gary Xu Gang, one of three curators of the biennale, came after a professor at Wesleyan University claimed on social media that Xu has been sexually assaulting women going back 20 years, including when he was an associate professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The accusation was posted on a Chinese online forum, and although that post was later deleted, it prompted a woman to offer what she said was photo evidence of the misconduct—she posted pictures of bruises on her face she claimed came from Xu, suffered while they were in a relationship during his tenure at UIUC. She also shared her emergency request for protection that was filed with local authorities. Xu has denied all allegations, but after an internal investigation, the biennale decided to fire him. “Given that the center’s attitude and mission is to spread positive energy of art, we, after deliberate consideration, decided to terminate our cooperation with Xu Gang for the 2018 Shenzhen Biennale,” the statement read. Speaking with the Art Newspaper, Xu again the denied the allegations. “The nature of the online mob under the name of sexual harassment is terrible,” he said. But several individuals contacted by the paper who made allegations against Xu stood by their accounts, though remained anonymous, with one saying she was “still frightened” but willing to testify against the curator, according to the report.

03  Philadelphia’s Institute of Contemporary Art announced this week that it is the first museum to be certified by W.A.G.E.

(via ARTnews)
Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.) is a New York-based group that advocates fair compensation for artists from institutions showing their work. W.A.G.E. has developed a set of guidelines to compensate artists for their participation: flat fees for nonprofit organizations with smaller annual budgets of $500,000 or less, and a tool for larger institutions that calculates a fair fee as a percentage of an organization’s annual operating expenses. The ICA in Philadelphia has an operating budget of $4.8 million and joins over 50 other W.A.G.E.-certified institutions, including “Artists Space, the Swiss Institute, Participant Inc., and Open Space, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s online platform for writings by curators, artists, and critics,” according to ARTnews. “We’re proud to be the first museum to join this diverse group of arts and culture institutions across the U.S. who are certified,” the ICA’s director, Amy Sadao, said in a statement, “and hope that it will encourage other museums to do the same.”

04  A University of Wisconsin campus proposed eliminating 13 majors, including art, causing widespread controversy.

(via the Washington Post)
Several hundred students from the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point (UWSP) gathered on Wednesday to protest a proposal from the school’s administration that would scrap 13 liberal arts and humanities majors while bolstering support for majors that emphasis technical skill, the Washington Post reported. Among the majors on the chopping block is art, , though a major in graphic design would survive the cuts. Wisconsin’s education system has seen significant funding reductions under its Republican governor, Scott Walker, who cut $250 million from university funding in the state in 2015, and who has attempted to shift the mission of state universities toward job growth. UWSP itself is facing a $4.5 million deficit over two years. Members of the Save Our Majors campaign, which is battling the proposal at UWSP, charged that elected officials “perpetuated the belief that education is only valuable when it leads to specific career paths.”

05  The ACLU has sued New Orleans, alleging the city’s onerous process for getting approval for murals violates the right to free expression.

New Orleans may be known as the “big easy,” but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is arguing that securing a permit to paint a mural there is anything but easy. The advocacy organization sued the city on March 13th, calling the permitting process a “multipronged assault on the First and Fourteenth Amendments” in court filings, because it requires artists to seek government approval for their work. According to The Art Newspaper, the ACLU charged in court papers that the application comes with a $500 base fee and requires the review of “multiple government officials and committees,” whose rationale is often vague or opaque. Additionally, the regulations are selectively enforced, the organization claimed. The ACLU is suing on behalf of resident Neal Morris, who could face jail time for a mural on his property created by the artist Cashy-D, with permission. The mural features a quote from U.S. President Donald Trump’s infamous remarks about grabbing women by the genitals without permission. “I knew that there would be controversy over the Trump part—which I thought was welcome,” Morris told The Art Newspaper. But, he noted, he “didn’t anticipate conflict with the city.”

06  Two ancient mosaics were unearthed from under the lawn of the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.

(via the Tampa Bay Times)
Soon after the MFA opened its waterfront location in St. Petersburg in 1965, it acquired five mosaics from an excavation of the ancient city of Antioch, a site located between modern-day Turkey and Syria. Three of the mosaics are placed throughout the museum––one is in a water fountain, another is stored under a stage, and one is on view in a membership garden, where current executive director Kristen Shepherd used to do homework as a high schooler. Shepherd became director in 2017 and initiated a search project for the two missing artworks, which she entitled “Antioch Reclaimed,” and found the mosaics buried under the museum’s lawn last year. The mosaics, extricated earlier this month, are undergoing a major conservation process inside of an outdoor lab, where museum visitors can watch the project unfold. While the museum is unsure of why the 2,000-year-old works were buried underground, they are planning for a permanent installation of them, following a travelling exhibition set for 2020.

07  Belgian police officers raided homes across the country as they investigate an exhibition in Ghent that was allegedly full of fakes.

An exhibition of 26 Russian avant-garde artworks loaned to the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent by Igor Toporovski was closed at the end of January after experts raised questions over the authenticity of the pieces. Catherine de Zegher, the museum’s director, defended the show, claiming two art historians verified the authenticity of the works, but she was suspended earlier this month after the two experts cast doubt on her assertion. On Monday, prosecutors and police carried out searches in homes across the eastern side of Flanders after receiving a complaint from several art dealers and a descendent of one of the artists whose work was allegedly forged. But so far, prosecutors are remaining tight-lipped about the target of the raids, though they “sealed computers, requested documents and interviewed De Zegher,” The Guardian reported, citing Dutch newspaper De Standaard.

08  The art world is bracing for a new European privacy regulation that will allow E.U. citizens to see personal data held by businesses.

(via the Financial Times)
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into effect on May 25th, allows any E.U. citizen to know if a company is holding their personal data, see that data, and then request to have it deleted. The law will apply to any business that holds information on an E.U. citizen, regardless of where it is located. Any kind of information recorded by a gallery or art world business—from the personal tastes of a collector, to the events they’ve attended, to their dietary restrictions—would be subject to the rule, the Financial Times reported. While certain information, like who owned a work as part of its provenance, can be kept indefinitely, other personal data will have to be deleted in a timely manner, as there are stiff fines for noncompliance. But the regulation doesn’t govern intangible details of the intricate personal relationships that define the art world—that is, so long as the most gossipy tidbits, such as who is blacklisted from buying a work, aren’t written in a spreadsheet.

09  Michelle Obama portraitist Amy Sherald is now represented by Hauser & Wirth.

The mega-gallery announced that it would represent the artist worldwide and present shows of her work across its multiple outposts, starting with an exhibition in New York in 2019. became something of a household name earlier this year when the National Portrait Gallery unveiled her official portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama, alongside ’s portrait of Michelle’s husband, Barack. “Drawing loosely upon the tradition, Sherald subverts the medium of portraiture to tease out unexpected narratives, welcoming viewers into a more complex debate about accepted notions of race and representation, and situating black heritage centrally in the story of American art,” Hauser & Wirth said in a statement. The artist has been represented by Chicago’s Monique Meloche Gallery, and while Hauser & Wirth is now planning to represent Sherald globally and exclusively, a correction to a story in ARTnews indicated that Monique Meloche will still work with the artist on some level.

10  A London arts and textiles teacher won a $1 million prize after being named the best teacher in the world.

Andria Zafirakou, who teaches at a northwest London community school (the U.K. equivalent of a public school) in one of the poorest areas in the country, is the first British winner of the annual Global Teacher Prize, presented by the Varkey Foundation. Zafirakou made forging a better school environment and relationships with her students a top priority. She learned basic phrases in languages such as Gujarati, Hindi, and Tamil in order to better communicate with pupils. After visiting the homes of some students, where she found noise and overcrowding, Zafirakou added additional lessons during the day and on the weekend to give kids quiet places they could study and work. She also overhauled the curriculum “to make it relevant to pupils,” The Guardian reported. She has yet to say what she’ll do with the prize money, which will be paid out in installments, but in her speech after receiving the award in Dubai, she highlighted the importance of the arts. “I have seen how the arts help students to communicate. The arts help to give so much confidence and really create incredible young people,” she said.

Cover Image: Photo by Rhonda K.