Let’s see, now, where were we? Big inauguration, American carnage, big threats, bellicose speech. Bigger protest, millions of women, pink hats, sea to shining sea. Twitter wars unabated. Health care on the skids. War on reporters. Alternative facts.
And, oh, yes, tucked away there in the corner: a vow to kill the National Endowment for the Arts. And kill the National Endowment for the Humanities. And “privatize” the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has mostly been privatized already, anyway. Cost-cutting. Getting tough on the budget. Victory for the taxpayers. (NEA 2016 budget: $148 million. NEH 2016 budget: $148 million. Percentage of total federal budget, each: 0.003. CPB 2016 funding via federal government: $445 million. Percentage of total federal budget, all three agencies: less than 0.02. Federal budget 2015 for military marching bands, $437 million. Taxpayer expense to build or renovate National Football League stadiums, past 20 years, mostly through local and regional taxes: more than $7 billion.)
A fiscal conservative or libertarian can make an honest argument for eliminating the NEA and NEH on grounds that they’re simply not an appropriate use of taxpayer funding; culture should be funded privately. Here at ArtsWatch we don’t agree with that analysis. We believe there are many valid reasons for government financial aid to culture, and that the payoffs to taxpayers are many, from economic – in healthy cities, the arts are job and money multipliers – to educational and much more. Historically, consider the continuing dividends of the WPA and other cultural projects underwritten by the federal government during the Great Depression of the 1930s: In Oregon, for instance, Timberline Lodge.
But there’s much more to this move than a courteous philosophical/economic disagreement. The move to defund the NEA has a long and embattled history, dating at least to the so-called “culture wars” of the 1980s and ’90s, when a resurgent right-wing political movement convinced that artists were mostly a pack of degenerate liberals discovered that attacking the arts was a splendid red-meat issue for its base. They didn’t succeed in killing off the national endowments, but they did weaken them. The new administration seems to think it can finally finish them off. That would weaken state agencies such as the Oregon Arts Commission, which gets funding from the NEA, and in turn weaken arts organizations across the state, which get money from the OAC and, often more importantly, a stamp of approval that helps them raise private donations. Killing the endowments would be a rash move that would save hardly anything in the national budget and cause deep mischief to the nation’s well-being. It strikes us as petty and vindictive and, frankly, foolish.
It’s also a reach that might fail. Republicans like culture, too, and understand its value, and often support it generously. Traditionally, that has included Republican politicians. Will they fall in line with the new administration, or will they quietly scuttle its gambit? Keep your eye on this thing. We will, too.
THE FERTILE GROUND FESTIVAL, Portland’s sprawling celebration of new works in theater, dance, solo performance, circus arts, musical theater, comedy, and other things that ordinarily happen on a stage, continues through January 29. ArtsWatch writers have been out and about, writing their impressions. You can catch up with some of them below:
Astoria: huge notions, big dreams. Marty Hughley reviews the world premiere of Astoria: Part One, Chris Coleman’s adaptation of Peter Stark’s book about John Jacob Astor and his dreams of empire.
Fridtjof Nansen’s polar express. The latest of Lawrence Howard’s Armchair Adventures for Portland Story Theater heads for the North Pole with the great Norwegian explorer and humanitarian.
3 hijackers, 25 strangers, no NPCs. A.L. Adams reviews the world premiere of db, Tommy Smith’s energizing riff on the legend of hijacker D.B. Cooper, at CoHo Theatre. An NPC, she explains, is a “non-playable character” in video games, someone who exists simply to help the main character play out his or her arc and has no real story of her own. Usually, an NPC is a woman. Happily, no NPCs here.
El Payaso: not just clowning around. Christa McIntyre reviews the premiere of Milagro’s contemporary bilingual play about the legacy of Ben Linder, the clown and engineer/activist who was slain in Nicaragua in 1987 while helping to bring electricity to one of the nation’s poorest regions.
Strange days: It’s Carnivora time. Marty Hughley interviews Matthew B. Zrebski, author of Theatre Vertigo’s new gothic horror play about “a 21st-century ride that’s out of control.”
Fertile Ground goes dancing. ArtsWatch dance columnist Jamuna Chiarini gives the lowdown on the festival’s multiple dance choices.
Fertile Ground: Curtains (almost) up. Three ArtsWatch writers speed-date the producers and playwrights before the festival hits the ground. A taste of the passions and aspirations of about forty of this year’s new shows.
Reading into Tahni Holt’s Sensation/Disorientation and Sensation/Disorientation reveals the heart of dance. ArtsWatch does double duty on the premiere of the Portland choreographer’s newest work commissioned by White Bird. Hannah Krafcik, who works with Holt at FLOCK, gets under the surface of her approach to dance, and Nim Wunnan reviews the White Bird show.
Shakespeare experiments for modern times. From Shakespeare’s Globe in London to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, experiments with and rewritings of the Bard have had theater observers in a dither. Shakespeare, Hailey Bachrach suggests, can survive it. It might even be good for him.
Seattle Opera’s La Traviata: stripped-down tragedy. German director Peter Konwichny’s staging, Angela Allen writes, is a revelatory 21st century production that gains force and focus from its spareness.
Appropriation, information, and cyborgs: an interview with Michele Fiedler. Mack Carlisle talks about life, art, and science fiction with Disjecta art center’s sixth curator-in-residence.
Pacifica Quartet: four is enough. “It was a dark and stormy night,” Terry Ross begins his review, and barrels on with the musicians from strength to strength. Despite the unexpected absence of a guest artist who was sick, the stellar quartet brought the house down: “Such performances not only beggar description, they defy criticism.”
Eric Skinner’s happy landing and A mellow Meadow like old times. I sit down for a conversation with Skinner, the deeply admired BodyVox dancer who’s retiring from the company (though not necessarily from dancing) after twenty years, and review BodyVox’s show, which is in part a tribute to him.
The Flick whirs to life. Marty Hughley reviews Third Rail’s “damned entertaining” production of Annie Baker’s long and looping play about the workers in a shabby movie house.
Cascadia Composers: spanning the spectrum. Writer Matthew Neil Andrews, himself a Cascadia Composer, thinks about the variety in four fall concerts and looks ahead to several yet to come.
Rising comedy star Bri Pruett tries a little tenderness. The Portland comic, who’s about to resettle in L.A., puts a new, softer spin on the trope of standup comedy about sex, A.L. Adams writes.
The poisoned art of Donald Trump. In an essay, I look at the new president’s mastery of storytelling, his seizure of the cultural narrative, and why actual art transcends his aggressive and manipulative craft.
Tad Savinar on making theater, urban design and studio art. Paul Sutinen conducts a ranging interview with the equally wide-ranging Portland artist, who in addition to his public art and urban design projects has a retrospective show at the Hoffman Gallery through March 5.
About ArtsWatch Weekly
We send a letter like this once a week to a select group of email subscribers, and also post it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.
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