Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thanks Dad! That’s great – way to support my dreams by killing relevant legislation!

Oh wow. This one is really just too delicious not to share. I tweeted this on Opera Tampa and I am beside myself with the anger that comes when families and politics collide and common sense is thrown out the window. Former Vice-President Dick Cheney and his lesbian daughter come to mind. Now – the arts version:

Sen. Tom Coburn(R) Oklahoma is responsible for writing the amendment that essentially killed arts funding. The amendment stated that is was created, "to ensure that taxpayer money is not lost on wasteful and non-stimulative projects," such as funding museums, theaters and arts centers.

It passed.

Where does this amendment go from ignorant to downright offensive?

His daughter, Sarah Coburn is one of the rising stars of opera. Her performance at Washington National Opera last year was so divine it was said to be "... so lovely it stopped time."

Sen. Coburn just killed funding for the kinds of organizations that feed his extremely talented daughter.

Cultural institutions in trouble have been the headlines for months. The Met had to lay off staff and force a 10% pay cut in its current staff. Baltimore Opera is shuttered after 50+ years as a cultural mainstay. That’s just two examples from the opera world. If we were to relay the struggles of cultural institutions from ballet companies to museums this blog would be too long to read.

The small percentage of funding dedicated to the arts has been demonized in the current stimulus package as “pork” and “unnecessary spending.”

Yet, the arts are a revenue generator for cities across the nation. The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center alone is responsible for over 100 million dollars in economic impact for the region. Arts institutions in this area are better attended than all professional sporting events in Tampa Bay – combined!

The arts not only give back strong economic dividends, they are the one of the top reasons why people move to a city or region. The Cultural Creatives crave artistic venues and make up one of the most promising sectors of the economy. The arts stimulate more revenue for small business and urban cores than they require for operation.

Arts institutions are not a haven of bad spending and poor financial planning. When was the last time you heard about a “golden parachute” for a member of the arts community? We run on shoestring budgets, we put our artistic creativity to work to make silk purses out of pig’s ears, and we do it all for the “greater good” of our society. Trust me, there is nothing “wasteful” in the arts. We can’t afford to waste. One man’s trash is another man’s set design, or costume, or office furniture. And we will take anything we can and find beauty and usefulness in it.

I know I’m biased, but I can’t think of a better way to ensure the cultural integrity of our great nation (one of the only industrialized nations to NOT have a national theater, btw ... ) than to ensure that arts are protected and maintained. Creative industries employ over 5.1 million people in the United States. To put that in perspective – the AFL-CIO only claims 2.1 million members in America. Think about that for a moment. Close down an automotive plant? The government will say you’ve killed the American dream. But destroy the funding for an arts organization to provide after-school programs designed to give at-risk youths the opportunity to creatively and peaceful express themselves, while gaining self-esteem, innovation and the tools to succeed? Then you’re just making “tough decisions.”

Oh I could go on and on.

Shame on you Sen. Coburn. Shame on you. For all the opera recitals you sat through, the dedication you watched your talented artist display, the work ethic I’m sure she has, her passion, her pain, her fear and her moments of triumph – probably too few for all the moments of her heartbreak – shame on you. You know the face of the artist, you know it better than you know your own face. How could you do such a thing? How do you explain this to your daughter? And while you’re at it, why don’t you explain it to me?

- Kari G.

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