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In Brief: Super Bowl Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to good things in Blogville and Beyond.

  • In the world of online music video this week -- the Centre de Musique Baroque's concert of music from the reign of Henri IV in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles; Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques performing Lully's Bellérophon in the Opéra Royal de Versailles; and much more. [Arte]

  • Lisa Hirsch has hit on a fun idea, asking opera lovers to compile a fantasy opera season. The response has been good so far, with the predictable result that critics and people with specialized interests are compiling seasons that would send any company into bankruptcy. It may be relevant to recall what I labeled the programming formula at Santa Fe Opera: in a summer season of five operas, they generally program two chestnuts, one 20th-century masterpiece, one world premiere, plus a wild card slot for Baroque opera or a less-performed work by a popular composer (in 2008, for example, Marriage of Figaro, Falstaff, Britten's Billy Budd, the U.S. premiere of Saariaho's Adriana Mater, and Handel's Radamisto). Chestnuts are an inevitable part of making an opera company budget work, but if you keep the chestnuts in an appropriate rotation, you can attract a much broader audience. [Iron Tongue of Midnight]

  • Providing an example of how not to do things, Washington National Opera announced its new season. Five operas and not much to get excited about. Alex Baker hit the nail on the head by calling it a "retrenchment season": "I think its safe to say DC isn't going to be a destination city for opera travelers next year." Indeed. [Wellsung]

  • Is Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's marriage cursed? After a fall from the podium, Muti will have surgery for jaw fractures. [Chicago Tribune]

  • Remembering Jussi Björling on what would have been his 100th birthday. [Clef Notes]

  • We even tweet in regional dialects. [Languagehat]

  • The National Endowment for the Arts was gutted during the presidency of Ronald Reagan: in spite of those "savings," "public debt roughly tripled during Reagan's eight years in office" and "Federal spending rose 25%." [Culture Monster]

  • In widely noted news, Citibank seized control of EMI this week. [Reuters]

  • Thoughts on the death and life of Milton Babbitt from Tim Rutherford-Johnson. [The Rambler]

  • Hooray! Matthew Guerrieri got the Twitter virus. [Soho the Dog]

  • This week, the Musée du Luxembourg will open the first retrospective in France of the works of Lucas Cranach. [Le Point]


Anonymous said...

Mr. Downey: I understand politics is ubiquitous in Washington, DC, but please note that providers of non-political content sully their product and run the risk of damaging their credibility when engaging in unsophisticated political commentary--not to mention winning no converts. Your non sequitur observation of a movie budget exceeding that of the NEA, previous posts to politicized discussions of arts funding, and finally the tendentious Drudge-like headline to the Culture Monster article make clear your position on the issue. However, to serious policy people on both sides of the aisle you come across as a naif and a nudnik. Here's why: First, you say the NEA was "gutted" by Reagan. Most definitions of "gutted" suggest removing a lot of something, yet this article points out that the NEA's budget actually increased during Reagan, but not as much as inflation. The description is misleading but also inaccurate. Second, context: this "fact" is held up as an irony given that deficits rose during the same time, yet it wasn't Reagan's objective to decrease the deficit--in fact he intentionally grew it. This confounds the goal of reducing the deficit with Reagan's smaller-government and de-regulation drives--sloppy logic, to say the least. Which brings us to the third point: as it turned out, Reagan's bad-for-deficits record led to serious political attention to reducing the deficit during the Clinton years. Clinton indeed succeeded, in part by cuts such as the largest cut in funding to the NEA in history, in 1996, by more than a third, which could actually be described as "gutting." So, in today's climate, where the right is developing a position of "cut everything," which may lead the left to take positions opposing cuts (temporarily, to be sure), holding up Reagan's "cutting" NEA but increasing deficits, as advocacy for opposing cuts to the NEA, is very flimsy argument, and one that nobody with any political sophistication would buy--let alone the irony of holding up NEA-funding as liberal, and deficit-reduction as conservative. This liberal suggests you leave advocacy to others, even arts advocacy, and stick to covering actual arts.

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks for that. This is a much more detailed perspective than I am interested in including here, for obvious reasons. I don't think putting a link in a link round-up is somehow an intolerably political act, but I am sorry that it bothers you.

Anonymous said...

Seriously? What bothers me is coming to an arts site to read about the arts and reading your words describing Reagan as having "gutted" the NEA. You said that. The linked article didn't say that. Indeed, a link in the article to "NEA budget" actually shows the nominal budget grew in all but one year of that administration. "Intolerably political act?" Really? In fact, I donate thousands to the arts, I am an artist, and I support the NEA. I don't support bad journalism. "I'm a blogger, not a real journalist," you say? I don't support sloppy logic, inaccurate reporting, ineffective advocacy, amateur politicizing, nor, worst of all, amateur politicizing on an arts blog. Accurate would be if you wrote the headline: "non-mainstream wingnuts have arts blogger in their hands by insinuating that the right is targeting the arts specifically for budget cuts."

Charles T. Downey said...

Wow. Just, wow.

reading your words describing Reagan as having "gutted" the NEA. You said that. The linked article didn't say that.

You are correct. What the Culture Monster article DID say was "one thing for which the late president is remembered is devastating the already small budget of the National Endowment for the Arts," later adding that "The NEA budget has never recovered."

In any case, you are probably right, and the NEA and NEH have nothing to fear under the present Congress.

Anonymous said...

OK, moving on to the Culture Monster article. To their credit, they included this link,, which illustrates NEA approps. An interesting question is, after looking at this graph: by whom and for what reason is Reagan also remembered for "devastating the already small budget" of the NEA? Are we all comfortable saying Clinton devasted the NEA's appropriations and G. W. Bush should be remembered for restoring them? I'm not, because it ignores the important details of the appropriations process. But that's not a topic for an arts blog, now is it?

Charles T. Downey said...

I take your point that funding levels are not decided by presidents alone, but rather by the interaction of different controlling interests in Congress and the White House. The only point I was trying to raise, innocently enough or so I thought, was to put the Federal arts budget in some kind of monetary perspective: it is not nearly approaching the level of money that needs to be cut from government spending to make a dent in the government's debts, although it makes such an easy target for some voices out there. You are also absolutely right that a more nuanced understanding of the situation, such as what you have begun to outline in your comments, is probably not appropriate for this forum. I do thank you for adding that point of view to the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Indeed. As an artist who has also worked on the Hill and served in both D and R administrations, my experience is that when an issue for which there is generally bi-partisan support gets politicized, the intelligence level of the discourse drops dramatically. And, a common way to politicize an issue is to attempt to create the illusion that one side has a significantly different view or approach to the issue, in particular, by using misinformation. In my experience, all corners of the political "spectrum" engage in this conduct with nearly equal frequency and depth-of-wrongness. I expect many NEA-backers and lobbyists to take the recent proposal for cuts (that cuts deep into big-ticket items, but makes little scrapes into smaller approps like the NEA, reported at to use this as evidence that the right has it out for the arts, even though, in context, this would represent the smallest cut to the NEA approps in its history--but alas, a cut nonetheless. Taking things out of context works wonders for politics. Also, recall the stink about Ultra-Conservative Kansas Governor Sam Brownback doing the evil task of killing the Kansas Arts Commission? It seems less evil when you consider his move is to make it a nonprofit more similar to over half the other states, and when you consider that some states with vibrant arts scenes don't even have a state arts commission or similar body. But context and accuracy kind of mess up the political argument, see?