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DCist: Casals White House Tribute

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See my review of the concert by Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax, published at DCist today:

Remembering Casals at the White House (DCist, January 27):

Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy's inauguration turned a generational tide in the United States, a watershed event being celebrated this month at the performing arts center named for him on the banks of the Potomac. Among those filled with hope for the future by the young president's election were artists, writers and, not least, classical musicians, who welcomed his words about the importance of the arts to the life of the country. "In free society," Kennedy claimed boldly in one speech, "art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology." Encouraged, it is generally believed, by his classical music-loving wife, Kennedy led by example, inviting the best musicians to perform at the White House for gatherings of the greatest artists of the day. At one such important event, Kennedy drew on his correspondence with the octogenarian Pablo Casals, coaxing the outspoken Catalan cellist out of retirement -- a musical silence that began as part of his protest against the fascist government of Franco in his native Spain -- for a legendary recital at the White House. In a gesture meant to open the doors to the nation, a recording of the concert was later released.

On Tuesday night, the cellist's widow, Marta Casals Istomin, presided over a Pablo Casals Tribute Concert in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, a recreation of the program of this recital led by perhaps the most recognized figure in classical music today, cellist Yo-Yo Ma (like his recitals in 2007 and 2006 practically guaranteed to sell out quickly, even when he barely plays anything).

"We are here to recapture," Casals Istomin said elegantly, "that brief moment when music was center stage in the nation's capital." [Continue reading]
Pablo Casals Tribute Concert
Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Emanuel Ax (piano), Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

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Kansan Artist said...

The link to Kennedy's words, "art is not a weapon and it does not belong to the spheres of polemic and ideology," to the Huffington Post article is ironic. While Kennedy advocated for taking the arts out of ideology, you have linked to a political site engaged in politicizing an issue. The politicizing isn't even subtle: the title of the article engages in grand political tautology. The "Republican Study Committee" is engaged in considering cuts to nearly everything—not just the arts. Opponents of federal funding for pet neutering are likely also to politicize the discussion by railing against "conservative Republican" attempts to let the pet population spiral out of control--as if that's specifically what their aim is, issue by issue. Advocates for every issue will attempt to politicize their individual issues, because like all politics, it's a game of magnitudes.

That aside, let's consider the substance. The proposal is to reduce—or even wholly eliminate—federal funding for the arts. The Huff Post's article and its many commenters imply that the result is that arts will disappear and America will become a cultural wasteland. If anything, this supports cutting federal funding, for if we are discussing only the arts which would exist with taxpayer funding, it's actually a legitimate argument to discuss de-funding these particular works—particularly when that money could be used to, e.g. help the poor, renew infrastructure, etc. That means that the arts that are left will be the arts that are currently vibrant, influential, ground-breaking, world-class, etc. and that have consistently been funded without outside help—art from Frank Stella to [your favorite artist here], Adams to Zorn, etc. Did Kennedy's beloved Robert Frost take public funding to create his art? Of course not—in fact he was quite loaded from private means. Are major ICSOM orchestral musicians just scraping by? No, base pay for many prinicples is over $200,000 per year.

I think those of us that are dedicated to ensuring that the arts survive—if not thrive—need to think hard about how to ensure that the good stuff is commercially viable. Indeed, this may involve public funding, but when it is reliant on public funding, we've long lost the battle. I would argue, the best use of the money is making sure people know what the good stuff is, i.e. arts education, advocacy, marketing, etc., which could be funded a number of different ways.

In sum, this particular discussion is the very politicization that Kennedy argued against. Hating on conservatives is not likely to be very fruitful here, and may even have the opposite of the intended effect.

Charles T. Downey said...

A link, of course, is not an endorsement of any political view, only an indication of a related current debate. That even something as simple as a link could elicit a reply such as yours shows how the issue of arts funding has been radically politicized. The national endowments for arts and humanities, once again on the budgetary chopping block, were the realization of the de-politicization of the arts that Kennedy envisaged, a way to show that the entire American people supported the arts, not just those wealthy enough to be donors or even ticket buyers. Thank you for proving my point.

Kansan Artist said...

I'm not sure what your point is. My point is that politicizing an issue is the best way to bring down the intelligence of the discourse (the most important thing I learned working on the Hill), and I endeavored to demonstrate that the partisan hating-on in the Huff Post article and, particularly, in its comments, reflect a lack of thoughtfulness, bias/prejudice, fallacy, and disregard for other points of view (full disclosure--I'm a liberal), and worst of all, may harm the cause of securing appropriate public funding for the Arts. The Endowments as a way to show support of "the entire American people" is one point of view--framed nobly, indeed--but come on, the common man can support the Arts in so many ways. Indeed, I would argue that historically the Arts supported by the common man have been the most influential and the most enduring. The Public Purse is a complex thing--let's at least recognize that there is an intelligent discussion to be had here rather than trying to frame an entire half of the political spectrum as anti-Arts merely because of including one's pet organization among the many under consideration for "adjustments."