Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Merits of Publically Funded Arts

In an open letter to the acting chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, (NEA) Florida Representative Cliff Stearns criticizes their use of stimulus funds for "art projects that many Americans find offensive." He goes on to cite the projects he opposes that add up to $100,000 worth of support. The League of Chicago Theatres' (LOCT) blog goes on to point out that that sum comprises only 0.002% of the stimulus allotted to the NEA.

Outraged at the criticism and attack on personal freedoms, the LOCT digresses into mudslinging and name calling in a very unattractive fashion. Sadly stooping to Steans' level just adds more fuel to the fire.

While artists across America are upset by the Congressman's remarks, there is a statement later in the letter that should be fully discussed: "If such private money cannot be raised, then perhaps such art has no place in our society." Harsh words to hear, but perhaps it is what we as artists need to listen to as a wake up call.

Art is not valued as part of our culture. Sure there are many people who attend the theatre and support it through generous donations, but if all Americans were to get together in a room and list out the top ten leisure activities, theatre and other performing arts would probably not make it to the list. If we were to make a list of ten things we find essential to a society or ten essential components of a child's education, theatre would probably not make a showing.

So if we are performing plays that no one wants to see - and you can find evidence for that through your box [sic] office reports and reviews - why are we doing what we are doing?

The issue is far greater than some representative complaining over the allotment of stimulus funds. It goes down to us as artists not instilling a sense of need in our constituents. If our country is having a hard time getting behind health care reform, which is literally a matter of life and death, how can they be expected to unite behind theatre, music, song, and dance unless there is the feeling that it is essential to a balanced life?

Let us start a grass-roots campaign right now. Take a child to the theatre. Talk to her after the show about what they saw, what they experienced, what the felt, and what they thought. Challenge him to really process the story and come up with his own interpretation. Make sure that she and he sees how arts enrich our everyday lives and give us a peek at the extraordinary.

Happy Birthday: Fernando Arrabal (1932) and Jerzy Grotowski (1933-1999)

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