A Great Nation Deserves Great Art – National Endowment for the Arts
Yes it does. Here in the optimistic but not Pollyannaish offices of The Crusty Curmudgeon, we’ve been discoursing, in the great tradition of the master thinkers—Sophocles, Aristotle, and…I don’t know…lots of smart people—the Obama administration and what, if anything, will change regarding funding of public art. This was prompted by an article in the current issue of Newsweek by Jeremy McCarter.
The article makes several valid points, among them that “cultural issues, which aren’t a top priority for new administrations even in the best of times, will have trouble climbing very high on the Obama agenda.” Sad, but true. But it needs to. Nay…it must.
We are facing so many obstacles and challenges—on a multitude of levels nearly unprecedented in the short history of the country—that it’s hard to imagine any attention given to the arts at all. Dwarfing such crises as Wall Street and the auto club’s need for a cash transfusion, is the infernal war in Iraq. According to the Washington Post, we have spent over $600 billion on this embarrassment (currently spending 12 billion per month) and the total will surely surpass 1.5 trillion, and some now estimate the total reaching 3 trillion when all is said and done. And we don’t even blink.
Do You Think I am Easier to be Played on than a Pipe? (Hamlet, Act III, scene 2)
Let us not forget—never, ever sweep this knowledge under your personal carpet—that reliable pre-war estimates pegged the total cost at $100 to $200 billion, to which Rumsfeld said, “Baloney,” and the White House countered with a figure of $50 to $60 billion. Either the Bush Administration and Friends are the biggest liars to ever run this country into the ground (yes, they are) or they are the undisputed Idiot-Kings of any land, time immemorial (yes, that’s true also.)
Imagine what we could accomplish with that money? I say it’s time to get the hell out of Iraq. The USA has been embarrassed and disgraced, our heretofore righteousness and nobility of purpose lessoned in the eyes of every respectable nation in the world. We did not do that, you and I, but rather the Bushies and their cronies (Your Rumsfelds, Cheneys, Kenny Boys, Haliburton, et. al.) did. Na, na-na, na, na, naaa!
That it Should Come to This (Act I, scene 2)
We must cut our losses and come home. It is not shameful to admit that we, as a people, were hypnotized and guileless for a few years, and we let the religious zealots who are only worried about praying in schools and saying “One nation, under God” where others can see them, take over for a bit, but we’ve got our heads back on straight and we will regain our former compassion, altruism, and your respect. You know, the stuff God really wants us to do.
Which brings me back to support of the arts. We’ve done it before during trying times. Arts funding was part of the New Deal. When FDR signed the Works Progress Administration into law in 1935, it included provisions for four arts programs: Theatre, writing, music, and art ($418 million in 2008 dollars.) This was a wise move. Arts organizations are highly labor-intensive, quickly creating new jobs, not to mention its effect on the public mood. Plus, it’s art, for chrissake!
But can Obama do it?
To Be or Not to Be: That is the Question (Act III, scene 1)
Well, he is arguably the hippest president ever (Ok…Clinton was pretty hip) and used the INTERNET like it had never been used in politics before. Appearing on Meet The Press, Obama told Brokow that he and his wife want to host “jazz musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings in the White House, so that once again we appreciate this incredible tapestry that is America.” Ok. So he has an interest in the arts too.
It should also be noted that the implementation of his Health Plan initiatives will do a great deal for the arts peripherally (kind of the opposite of collateral damage.) After all, when an artist can devote time to their craft, they become better artists, benefiting the human race all the more, because you can’t devote your time when you have to keep your day job just for the dental plan. And don’t forget education: the arts programs are always the first to be cut, while we keep football, basketball, cheerleading. What the hell are they thinking?
Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be? (Act I, scene 3)
He’ll have to ask for more money. The NEA’s budget is $144 million, off from its all-time high but far from the maddening days of the War on the Arts with General Jesse Helms. Obama will have to shout it from the mountain tops. As McCarter points out, Obama would be wise to get some of his high-profile Hollywood friends involved—Quincy Jones, George Clooney, etc—and dispatch “them as special emissaries to draw attention to various expressions of American creativity around the country. Along these lines, it’s also possible to imagine Obama kicking off, with a single phone call to Oprah, the literacy project to end all literacy projects.”
So let’s get the hell out of Iraq and get started on fighting the war right here at home. The war against ignorance, culture, and creativity. The war for theatre, music, writing, and art.
A great country deserves great art.