Friday, January 20, 2017

On Losing the NEA and the Death of Art

As we join with  our  fellow  Americans   and  look  down  the   barrel of  the  travesty  that  is  the  stolen  Presidency on  this   Inauguration  Day  of 2017 - and if  you're a  Democrat  who  has  been  voting  since  before  2000 and  you  are  reckoning  that  there  have  literally  been  two "stolen" elections  in  your  lifetime - as  an artist  the big  news  for  us  is  the  end of  the  NEA.

It  seems  Mr. Trump  and  his  Republican  cohorts are  eager  to  take  whatever  revenge  they  can  extract  from an artistic  community  that regularly satirizes the extremity  of  their  views.

So on  this  inauguration, with  the  NEA already  on  comparative  life  support  when  compared  to  other  industrialized  countries  in  the  world, we  as  artists  are  in  true  mourning, finally  coming  to  the  realization  that  the  patient  will not  be  revived  this  time.  With health care, women's  rights,  racism, and national  security on  the  forefront  of  everyone's minds, throw in some  immigration  for  distraction, the likelihood that  dismantling  the  NEA will merit  more  than one-time  front  page article  is  high. Their  is a  growing concensus that  Americans  don't  care  about  art and  humanities.

We are relatively easily moved to the  back  of  the  priority bus when it comes  to  discussing  the  upcoming  progressive  battle  with  the  incoming  administration.

How should  we  feel and  react?  Outrage?  Absolutely. Should we pool all of  our resources
to protest this horrendous  dent  to  our  national soul and  character? Clearly!


It  should  be  acknowledged  that  within the  not-for-profit  arts  community  there  is a  division  of  the  "haves"  and  "have-nots", not unlike  our  own  country's  socio-economic  divide.  The National  Endowment  for  the Arts  gave the lion's share of it's  wealth to organizations and institutions across  the  country  that  are  also  served by relatively wealthy  boards.  The NEA served as an  imprimatur of  excellence that  foundations  and large  private philanthropists used to guide their generosity.
Although during the Obama administration there was a mandate to reach out  to  smaller  organizations, the NEA had  few programs that could  make  art  grow for arts sake in  small organizations.

Ever since Robert Mapplethorpe's photography the  right-wing have  pretended they were lone  arbiters  of morals and family  values.  Clearly a backlash against  homosexuality  and  its  acceptance. But  if  we are living in  the  age  of  information, the  Republican Party and  their  new
partners, the  Trumplicans, are in a war  against our access  to  it. So kill the  artists. We'll need  the  lawyers  for  those  lawsuits.

If it cannot be measured  and  put  on a  scale,  giving  money  to  it's  creation is a  subjective.
That's a bad  idea says  the  right  wing and  over  time   the  Democrats  think  so  too, just  so  they  can  get  it  through  Congress.  So as a  reaction  to  this,  art and  artists  have been  bending  over   backwards  to  make  measurement   rubrics  and  assessments  to  try  and  fit  in  to  the  Republican  idea  of  what art  should  be. Over  the  last   30 years  the  NEA

No  matter  how  many  great  works   of art  have  been  aided  by  the  NEA  monies,  there  is  no   doubt  that  the  artistic   soul of  the  nation  is  harmed  by  this  thinking.  It is not  the  thinking  of  artists.  Far  worse,  it  has  literally  eaten  the  lives  and  intellects  of some  of  our  greatest  artists  and  creators  as  they  seek  to  create   work  that  dances  around   some   idea  of  what   is  "safe".   If  an  idea  seems  commercial,  the  not -for-profit  machine  begins to  favor  it  more  than
the  dogged  pursuit  of  excellent  art  for  its  own  sake.

Republicans, as a party,  do not  care  about  artists.  However, Republicans  as  individuals  are  the  greatest  donors  to  the  arts  as  everyone  in  the not  for  profit  world  knows. How  could  this  be  so?  Simple: tenacity and  entrepreneurship  is admired  but  helping  other s is  not . It  is  seen as  weak within the  Republican Party. Yet  they  regularly  flog the  arts  like  a  battered spouse whenever  budgets  are  discussed. The  arts  have been  gaslit  for ages. It's  where  the  right   wing  perfected  their  techniques.

It is time to break the cycle and pull the plug.

Clearly  what  Republicans  do  not  care  about  as a  party  is  quality  and  under  Donal  Trump, possibly  the  American President  with  the  least class  since  Andrew  Jackson (unkind   to Jackson's  memory) - it is  clear  that there is  no  barometer for quality arts in the  White House.  Do we  really  want  someone  making   choices that  effect art in America  who  thinks  Meryl Streep is  overrated?
If you have  no sense  of taste,  you  shouldn't  pick  the  wine.

We  should   pack our  bags  with  dignity and  not  prostrate ourselves  on  the  ground   begging to be noticed  by  Mitch McConnell and   Donald  Trump. Both seem hopelessly  callous, craven individuals who are almost  impregnable  to  reason and  decency.  We  should  begin  creating  as  much  art  as  possible  in any  place  we  can  create  art  to  reflect  the  nature  of  this  administration.  Eventually  the patient  will be  revived  and  when  it  is   it  will  be  leaner  and  healthier  and  it  will  protect  the  true  space  artists  need  to  create  with  more  ferocity.  It  will  demand respect  for artists  and  not  beg  for  approval  from politicians   who  dangle  meager  funding  in front  of  national  treasures   as  if  they  were  giving  children a  lollipop.

We have a  tremendously  dysfunctional  system  of  funding  arts  in our country. As a society  we  need  art. We  as  artists, and our  country as a  society  will not  be  served  by  cutting  arts  funding,  but  neither  will we be  served by groveling  for  pennies  for  the  crown  jewel institutions of  our  country.  Most institutions will  survive. Some  will not.  However  some  were   doomed  to  failure  after years of doing puppy  tricks  for  Republicans.  They  had  lost  touch  with their  own  artistic  core.

In  five years we will begin one of the most prolific artistic eras of this or any other generation  of  Americans.  Now, there are many artists who will be  looking for ward  to NOT  working with Republicans and the Trump administration. When the  nightmare  is over, if we remain true to craft  in  the  dark  times, the  output  will  shimmer  with  the  brilliance  of commitment and audacity.


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