Wandering Eye: SRB reverses Circulator cuts, the legacy of welfare reform, and the value of art

Lillie Harden is dead, but her story shouldn't be. When President Bill Clinton signed the law ending welfare as we know it, Harden stood behind him, telling reporters that she was glad to be working a low-wage job so her children could tell people their mother worked for a living. In her young 40s when the "Welfare-To-Work" law was passed two decades ago, Harden stood as an example of industrious, hopeful poverty. She credited Clinton as "the man who started my success and the beginning of my children's future." Critics of the welfare reform fought it bitterly and predicted disaster for the poor, who would be thrown out of the program after short time limits (two or three years in most states and five years max). The disaster happened, but quietly. Several states basically don't abide by the time limits; poor people just get poorer. Harden had a stroke in 2002 and asked the author Jason DeParle, who was then writing a book about the welfare reform's results, to ask the former president to help get her on Medicaid, which she was no longer eligible for under the law he had signed with her looking over his shoulder. Harden's daughter was doing well but her son had become a violent drug dealer, serving "two years for shooting some students outside a Little Rock high school," according to DeParle's 2005 book. Harden died in March 2014, a reporter for Alternet discovered earlier this year. She was 59, living in Little Rock, where 20 percent of residents live below the poverty line. The 1990s welfare reform is no longer a policy issue; the program is just part of the background, the time limits treated by most people as something that’s always been there. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

 

The Circulator is back and stronger than ever! Long live the Circulator. Reversing course on a plan that would have axed the Banner route and cut service to the Green and Orange lines, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced yesterday that the free bus service would remain largely intact, including the Banner Route that runs from downtown to Locust Point, The Sun reports. Plans to extend the Purple line—the most popular in the system—to 33rd Street are still on track for the fall. So why was the mayor able to restore service? She linked it directly to the loss of the Red Line, an east-west light rail route whose funds were cut by Gov. Larry Hogan. "I had this nagging feeling, knowing that the investments we had anticipated from the state weren't going to be there, that made me redouble my efforts to take another look at the Banner route and the cuts that we had proposed in this year's budget to the Circulator as a whole," Rawlings-Blake said. The city is not out of the woods yet, however. The Circulator has always run at a deficit since it launched in 2010, and there's a funding gap of more than $11 million, The Sun notes. SRB's administration will kick in $3 million, but other cost-cutting measures must happen for this to work, including possibly cutting down on the frequency of the buses. (Brandon Weigel)

 

In our cultural and economic climate these days, artists really have to hustle. Usually with student loans in tow, artists take multiple day jobs (which often don't relate much, if at all, to their main practice) so that they can make their rent, pay bills and loans, and whatever else. (CP Editor-at-Large Baynard Woods touched on this in his piece from our Big Music Issue, with the example of Jenn Wasner who, during Wye Oak's peak popularity, "made something close to the abysmally low salary of a City Paper editorial employee.") Sometimes, balancing these multiple jobs hinders or even keeps artists from continuing their actual work—the work that they love, that's valuable to them and, hopefully, valuable also to the people who look at it, listen to it, read it, or what have you. The problem, as Miranda Campbell argues in a story for Jacobin, is that a large part of the population doesn't recognize art and culture as valuable—that is, something that deserves a fair wage or salary. Though the music, books, and art we enjoy constitute our culture and shape our world and perspectives, the powers that be don't think those things deserve any monetary compensation (until they get, like, stupid famous).

As an example, Campbell brings up Astra Taylor, the filmmaker who spent two years working on a documentary for which she was paid only $20,000. Citing Taylor's book "The Public Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age," Campbell says that Taylor "make[s] a broader argument about the role of art and culture in fostering an informed and engaged democratic public sphere." Which means that we also need to address the ways that art and culture are cultivated and made accessible. The broad solution, Campbell says, is to change the public perception of art. "If we want to improve the lot of artists," she writes, "we need to shift gears from a woe-is-the artist conversation to one about the importance of art and the need to support the creation of art at the societal level." Though art should not be a luxury, for many it still is. (Rebekah Kirkman)

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