WOID XX-01. Defund and Games.
reprinted from WOID: a journal of visual language.
I met a cultureworker from an antique land, who said:
A few years back the Staatskulturministerium cut our funding and told us we had to balance our budget, no mean task when you run a small archive documenting an adult education program whose glory days were the first half of the Twentieth Century. Then, during a renovation, workmen discovered a pile of photographs: glass plates, thousands of them, many hand-colored, most over a hundred years old - we're still not done cataloguing. These glass plates are our capital. From them we issue glossy books that sell well, and we balance our budget. We mount thematic shows all over the country - the books sell even better.
The Staatskulturministerium must be feeling confused: Wasn't the original, operating assumption that Culture can't pay for itself?
No such confusion here in New York City:
New York City Opera's finally leaving the monster 2,600-seat theater it's been saddled with at Lincoln Center for over forty years. This has to mean the end, for it is a fact universally acknowledged by the New York Times, the wealthy patrons, the trustees and cultural administrators (in sum, the mass of hacks and artcrats that make up the cultural-industrial establishment), that an opera company cannot survive without being burdened with a clunker of an opera house along with crippling operating costs, not to mention the burden of corporate and Government funding.
You see, the masses are just not interested in Culture - I put the masses in italics because the New York Times seems to be the only journal that can print "the masses" with a straight typeface. New York City Opera needs donors like David Koch, the hyper-reactionary businessman who recently put down a pile of money to rename the Lincoln Center theater after himself - the same building City Opera's leaving.
The same illogic rules among European artcrats, who have nothing left to learn from the Americans because they've learned nothing anywhere else. You see, according to Henri Loyrette, the head administrator of the Louvre, "without corporate donors we'd have nothing but commercially viable shows." (« Sans les fonds privés, que des expos commerciales. ») Translation from Capitalese, the Esperanto of the Clueless:
if the Louvre didn't chase after corporate donors they'd be forced to put on shows that promise to be commercially successful (meaning shows that appeal to the masses), as opposed to chasing after corporate donors, which would guarantee shows that chalk up a deficit, and that's good because chasing after the masses is pandering; chasing after wealthy donors is showing due deference.
It's kind of like as if you got David Koch, one of the most despised people in America, to put his name on your theater, with the quietly smug awareness that it's a surefire way to keep your average liberal New York concertgoer away. As one ex-subscriber put it, it's like asking a Jew to attend a concert in the Goebbels Coliseum.
Of course the Louvre, unlike Lincoln Center, is not likely to go bankrupt in any form or fashion; but as the French like to say, Qui veut noyer son chien l'accuse de gaspillage: any shtick will do to beat a dog. In America, in France and elsewhere, the artcrats operate from the premiss that Culture can't pay for itself. Except that it's not a premiss, it's a TINA: There Is No Other Alternative. Not a premiss, then, but an operating principle, an artcrat's mission, at Lincoln center and elsewhere.
They built it with a permanent deficit.
Now let'em pay.
That's pretty much how William Schuman, the first President of Lincoln Center, put it to the businessmen who'd set up the whole, idiotic place; but Schuman was a composer, not a businessman: he thought the Rockefellers had structured Lincoln Center as a money-gobbling clunker by accident or by mistake. Lincoln Center, in fact, was built in order to create a deficit, and to keep the masses out. The two goals are not antithetical, they're part and parcel of the same philosophy - or did you think New York's construction industry exists to house people? That the purpose of the mortgage industry is to help folks buy their homes?
If everybody had housing there's be no need for unbridled construction; and if everybody could afford their home there'd be no need for ballooning mortgages. If every Italian organ grinder could appreciate Caruso, what would be the point of having an exclusive seat for Caruso at the Opera? Oh, right: Caruso had a maddening habit of performing for his appreciative paisan' down in the Village; and the uptown hoitytoity hate it when others try to cut in on their act, whether it's a cultural act, or economic.
The Rockefeller Famiglia built Rockefeller Center, consciously, as an employment project during the Great Depression: a rich man's WPA to compete with the other WPA, complete with its Diego Rivera mural of heroic workers, until the artist had been co-opted and compromised, and Rivera was tossed out and the murals were blasted off the wall, allegedly for including Lenin in the picture, the head of the competing corporatist philosophy. Lincoln Center was built along the same lines, by the Rockefellers, as a kind of WPA of Culture; its purpose, as with Rivera and the WPA, was at once to co-opt and to exclude, and make a buck in either case.
Culture has two mommies:
She Who Creates and Enforces Monopolies on Cultural Production; and She Who Channels Funding (private or public, no matter), through these same monopoly structures. Richard Nixon, the man who let loose the IMF to its new creative career of global speculation, also massively expanded the National Endowment for the Arts, for the same purpose:
Nixon, to NEA Chair Nancy Hanks:
Er, the main thing is, you've got to make it work, now you know? Not just get the dough but, you know, get it around, uh?
As they say wherever they say it, A dog with a bone in his mouth doesn't bark.
(First part of a three-part article.)