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Passion Play

After my radio appearance, where I feared that I sounded completely incoherent, it turns out may be I wasn’t such a disaster after all. Ellis Henican used a bit of our conversation in his Sunday Newsday column, and it reads about right. I apologize in advance of your reading it that I sound a bit crass–after all, hasn’t there been enough political bloodletting already?–but frankly, I happily anticipated walking into a voting booth for once with my head held high, and now, it appears, I’ll be entering as usual, holding my nose.

It’s a bit distressing to be playing Candyland with this primary when we ought to be deep into Stratego. Ultimately, we will either witness the creation of a whole new government-subsidized industry that brings about some good to our economy and the world in the form of a “green collar” job corps (sorry, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin) or we will dig ourselves so deeply into debt and international disdain that I fear we may never recover–and as someone who has an awful lot invested in housing prices returning to their former effervescence, I quake to imagine 100 more years of investment in the Iraqi infrastructure.

Candyland riots

And then, of course, we have the issue of humanism vs. militarism. Please visit my Pennsylvania Primary Arts Voters Guide alongside my analysis of John McCain’s position on the arts just so you’ll know what you’re up against come November. I still can’t tell you who will get my vote tomorrow: Clinton, for her specificity or Obama, for his idealism, but I can sure tell you that once the Democratic party’s decision is made, if you care about the arts and education in this country, you’d better pull that lever for whomever gets the nomination. 

However, if you happen to be in the first congressional district, one candidate I wholeheartedly endorse is Rue Landau, who is running to be an Obama delegate. I’ve known her since we were children, and she has devoted her entire life to righting political wrongs. As an attorney for Community Legal Services, she’s well aware of Philly’s economic and social needs. She’s a supporter of the arts and a tireless worker for social justice. Nice to know that once in a while, election season offers up a candidate who is actually worthy of a democracy.



John McCain Hates Shakespeare

So, on to Mr. McCain.

I’ll be blunt here: John McCain wants to eliminate federal funding for the arts. That’s right, ELIMINATE it. (This from bipartisan Vote-Smart.org.) Even that nice NEA “Shakespeare for a New Generation” program. Alas, poor Yorick. Olivier as Hamlet Whatever your feelings about government funding for arts and the strings attached, some funding, however fraught, is better than none at all. 

Long ago, McCain voted for the Helms Amendment, which hoped to deny funding to work considered “obscene.” Certainly, this amendment might have put a dent in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s current blockbuster, “Frida,” considering that it features obscenity central to the artist’s work such as this: Frida Kahlo 

In 1999, McCain voted with, among others, Sens. Robert Smith, Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, Sam Brownback and John Ashcroft (who believes dancing is an affront to God, a notion I find obscene) for the Smith-Ashcroft amendment. The amendment hoped to cut all funding for the NEA from that year’s budget. And here’s the introduction it received:

“In proposing the amendment, Smith explained that his objective was not to reform or restructure the NEA, but to close it down. He argued that federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is unconstitutional. Ashcroft joined Smith in speaking in support of their amendment.”

I’d love to list a point-by-point analysis of the Republican candidate’s current positions on arts professionals or funding, but, well, he doesn’t have any. (A quick search of “arts” on McCain’s website turned up Andrew McCain’s Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics. Congratulations!) And if you’re wondering how McCain feels about arts education, you can keep on wondering, because his entire education policy goes something like this: here’s your voucher; now go somewhere else or stop complaining.

If you’re of the mind that the cream rises to the top and eliminating arts funding will get rid of all the dross cluttering our artistic landscape, then you haven’t visited a school, theater, museum or arts festival lately, and you sure wouldn’t be reading this blog, because the idea for it grew out of a recent NEA fellowship I received.

Without federal money supporting these outlets, they will disappear. Subscribers cover only a portion of operating funds, and closing the NEA will close them down too. Once that funding dries up–and it just might if McCain wins the election–so will all those fancy new theaters dotting Broad Street, as will our festivals and museums. And once the Avenue of the Arts’ neon lights are dimmed, you can also say goodbye to everyone who bought Center City condos during the housing boom, the galleries, boutiques and restaurants that have sprung up around the city’s various arts scenes, and all those tourism dollars spent outside of the historic district. At least you’ll still have the war in Iraq… for the next 100 years. Take that into account the next time you say you’re voting your pocketbook.

Pennsylvania Primary Primer and Arts Voter’s Guide

The Theater Alliance listserv has been inundated of late with rants about race, abortion, power, a Hillary/mommy complex, impassioned debate (to put it kindly) covering just about every aspect of this political open season except its impact on the arts. So before you step into the voting booth on April 22 and help decide for the country who you’ll be electing, Digg this entry, send a link to your friends, print it out, and make sure you support a candidate who supports the arts. 

I’ll begin with Barack and Hillary, since they’re the most similar. In case you’re wondering, I’m a registered Democrat, but veer weekly from one candidate to the other. Both have their official arts platforms up on their websites, but if you’re not up for slogging through those, here’s a quick summary of where they converge and diverge.

Arts Education

  • Obama and Clinton both favor the U.S. Department of Education’s (DoE) Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Grants. This program gives grants to school districts for teaming up with nonprofit arts organizations. Obama says he will “increase” its funding, and Clinton says she will “double the number of students served.” 
  • While Obama says he will “publicly champion arts education,” Clinton says she will end No Child Left Behind, as it diverts money from arts education, and will “provide incentives to schools to offer arts programs.” A nice thought, since currently their only federal incentives are to pass standardized tests or else.
  • For teachers, Clinton supports the DoE’s Professional Development for Arts Educators program, which offers teacher training and enrichment. Obama plans to launch an “Artist Corps” of “young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities.” He does not say whether this corps will be composed of volunteers or paid workers, or how they will work with the teachers already in place. 
  • In addition, Clinton wants to launch the “Putting Arts in Reach Initiative,” a program to help schools acquire equipment used in arts programs: art supplies, musical instruments, etc.

National Endowments for Arts and Humanities

  • Both candidates want to increase funding for the NEA. Hallelujah. Funding has increased under Bush, but not anywhere near Clinton-era levels.
  • In addition, Clinton vows to support increased funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Arts Professionals

  • Both candidates are banking on their universal health care plans to take care of artists, but Clinton’s goes a step farther, building in a refundable tax credit to keep premiums at a specific percentage of income, and offering a 401(k) “with a generous federal match” for the self-employed or others whose employers don’t offer a retirement plan.
  • Both candidates vow to streamline the visa process for foreign artists looking to enter the U.S. Good news for Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse, I guess, but stellar news for all those Festival performers and organizers bound annually by reams of red tape.
  • Both plan to expand public-private partnerships that promote “cultural diplomacy,” by sending American artists overseas and bring foreign artists to the U.S.
  • Both support the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, which Clinton co-sponsored. Currently, artists who donate their work to cultural institutions are only able to deduct the costs of materials; this act allows them to also deduct its fair market value. Niiiice. 
  • Again, Clinton goes one step farther, promising to support programs that create live/work spaces for artists (again, niiiice…), and initiatives that “help artists promote and sell their work.” Though these promises sound vague, she cites a few forward-thinking examples on her website that she’s actually had a hand in creating.

This week, it looks like Hillary for me. Obama’s on the right track, but Clinton’s far more specific in her plans. Shen’s got the stats, the record, and New York state, which–when it comes to the arts–is no slouch… 

Tomorrow: John McCain and arts funding.