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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?

Nancy Hanks:

Oh, yes!

 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.)

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    luckydog, doodlebug

    [The artists formerly known as Quill Mike Eat Brains]

    by WOIDgang on Fri Jul 01, 2011 at 10:11:09 AM PDT

  •  I remember reading about WPA art controversies (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WOIDgang

    Specifically, there were a lot of people - most of them conservatives in Congress - whose objections to WPA art as often as not revolved around the content and style of the art as they did about government involvement and funding the art with deficit spending.  They even saw "Bolshevik" propaganda in pretty apolitical murals and bas-relief sculptures of workmen and farmers, never mind the alleged leftist agenda of Modernism itself.

    I've also read that the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities draw the same but worse fire for the content of the work they fund as well as their cost.  Conservatives view them as agents of outright culture jamming: allegedly aiming more to destroy the arts and humanities (as somehow inherently bourgeois, etc.) than promote them and that the work they fund is devoid of even the most superficial virtues of the WPA's work.

    In short, conservatives don't strike me as people who'd turn down money for propaganda, especially if it's plastered all over the walls.  Social and cultural conservatives at least actually place tremendous importance on art: they absolutely believe that life imitates art, but what happens when art starts to imitate life, especially the less than ideal parts of life?

    •  There's also some (0+ / 0-)

      conservative criticism which, sad to say, is quite sharp and well-researched. Sad to say because, obviously, I don't share the motivation behind it, resentment of the "wrong" propaganda. Those who disagree with its message are the ones most willing to look closely at the system's economic function beyond the usual platitudes about Art being good for business.

      - PW.

      [The artists formerly known as Quill Mike Eat Brains]

      by WOIDgang on Fri Jul 01, 2011 at 11:20:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  don't challenge the art, challenge the money (0+ / 0-)

        "We're fine with art ... free speech and all that; we just don't think it's the government's business."

        But at the same time conservatives have spent decades building an practical and ideological paradigm where money = speech, with the implication that if you have money but can't spend it to disseminate your viewpoint, then your rights are being denied.  Citizens United is just the latest and so far most brazen gesture: an explicit argument that multi-millionaire corporations deserve a say directly proportional to their ability to spend money to say it, rather than simply overwhelming the voices of others ... as if there's no such thing as too big a megaphone.  Logically, this is also true of starving artists - they don't have money, therefore they cannot speak - and conservatives know it.  The result is the same as official censorship and patronage.

        Even an entirely privatized art world would still be dependent on the tastes of wealthy patrons, and the science world struggles with many of the same problems.  The real argument is that art and scholarship exist independently of subjective taste and self-serving agendas, and the goal should be some form of impartial funding that artists and scholars can apply for on the merits of whatever they intend to do.

        •  I happen (0+ / 0-)

          not to agree with you here,

          The real argument is that art and scholarship exist independently of subjective taste and self-serving agendas,

          but that's beside my point. Culture is as thoroughly integrated into the capitalist economy as widget-making. Which means, of course, that it's thoroughly integrated into the system of social relations.

          Interesting, isn't it, that "Cleante" below finds him/herself incapable of seeing the way class relations are implicated in Culture, while so many others are unable to see how economic relations are implicated.

          [The artists formerly known as Quill Mike Eat Brains]

          by WOIDgang on Fri Jul 01, 2011 at 11:52:15 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  And why do you assert (0+ / 0-)

            that I find myself incapable of seeing the way class relations are implicated in Culture? There is no one way class relations are implicated in Culture, there are many, many ways they relate.  Let me ask you a few questions.  What was the last performance you experienced at Lincoln Center?  Who produced the event?  How much did you pay for your ticket?  

  •  And your point is (0+ / 0-)

    Not sure what's being said here.  Lincoln Center - bad?  Opera - bad?  Culture - bad?  David Koch - bad?  Culture workers - bad? NEA - bad? Non-profit arts organizations - bad?  What?

    Lincoln Center and comparable institutions have structural financial deficits in their DNA.  We know this. To assert that these organizations are design to keep out the masses, however, is ridiculous.  The lionshare of contributed money comes not from corporate or government sources, but rather from individual gifts - in the aggregate, smallish gifts.

    I'm sincere here.  I can't make heads or tails of your post.  

    •  Well, then, (0+ / 0-)
      To assert that these organizations are design to keep out the masses, however, is ridiculous.

      There's no way I'm going to convince you. Perhaps if you'd had the experience I had, as a student at Juilliard, of being chased away by the VoPos (The Volpe Police, named after Joe Volpe, general manager at the Met), you'd see things differently...

      [The artists formerly known as Quill Mike Eat Brains]

      by WOIDgang on Fri Jul 01, 2011 at 11:25:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Or, perhaps if you had my experience (0+ / 0-)

    I currently run a major national arts organization.  I have been affiliated with the NEA for 15 years.  I sit on the boards of three arts organizations and I have been a peer review panelist for any number of national foundations and governmental arts councils.  My experience with Kulture is broad and deep.  So, I am sincerely interested in understanding what you're asserting.  I'm a very open-minded individual, but am confused by your post.

  •  Maybe it's me (0+ / 0-)

    I'm trying here.  I re-read your post.  Help me with some clarifications.  Regarding City Opera - should the company never have existed?  Should it have existed instead on the Bowery near Amato?  Should Caruso not have sung with a full orchestra in full costume with other singers on a safely constructed set? What about Dan Sullivan's recent production of The Merchant of Venice with Pacino?  It was produced in the Park by The Public which receives funding from all manner of constituents.  It moved to a commercial run.  Is that sort of public/commerical hybrid acceptable?  I'm deeply confused by your term Artcrat.  Do you mean fundraisers, marketers, managing directors, etc.?  Or do you mean the hundreds of union workers (AEA, AGMA, IATSE, USA, SSD and Teamsters) who feed their families and retain the health insurance because of organizations like City Opera and Lincoln Center Theatre. Do you mean the actors, singers, painters, designers, musicians, orchestrators, designers, writers and directors?

    If you're asserting that collaborative art shouldn't be produced at all that's understandable.  I disagree.  If you're stating that Artcrats sustain a system that excludes the masses, I guess I need to know what you mean by the masses.  Engage me.

    •  Where to begin? (0+ / 0-)
      There is no one way class relations are implicated in Culture, there are many, many ways they relate.

      We agree. In other terms the relationship of those who administer culture (call them "artcrats" for short) to "the masses" (How I hate that term!) is dialectical, it is contradictory. Unless you're willing to meet me halfway on my thought processes, you "won't get it." I occasionally get people who wander into my lectures and attempt to "answer me" by throwing a positivist philosophy at me. I'm not a positivist. There's no common ground  there. You'll be tossing factoids my way and I'll be answering in contradictions.
      Let me ask you a few questions.  What was the last performance you experienced at Lincoln Center?  Who produced the event?  How much did you pay for your ticket?

      Nathalie Dessay in 'Lucia," a few months ago. She's a trooper, with a still-superb tone. Too bad the production was one of those usual train-wreck affairs. You see, I've worked backstage at Lincoln Center, I've done a bit of stage lighting elsewhere as well. I have a friend in the orchestra pit, and a pretty good sense of what's happening behind the scenes, though pretty's not the term. I actually wrote a review of the Lucia performance but I never got around to publishing it. Maybe I'll put it up here, next time.

      Oh, and BTW, the story about Caruso is from Johanna Fiedler’s book, Molto Agitato, which I did review here.

      What about Dan Sullivan's recent production of The Merchant of Venice with Pacino?  It was produced in the Park by The Public which receives funding from all manner of constituents.

      Do you know the story about Robert Moses' attempt to force Joe Papp to charge for admissions when Papp tried to bring Shakespeare in the Park uptown from Corlears Hook? Ended with Moses trying to red-smear Papp, and losing the first battle of his life. You could also argue, from the way the admissions policy changed over the past twenty years, that Moses has won. I saw Pacino's Merchant after it moved to Broadway, "free" Shakespeare comes at too high a price these days. I have an article coming out about the relationship of parks and culture, mostly in NYC but also in Paris and Vienna, with a short side-trip to Budapest. I wrote it in French - for some reason French culture workers are much more interested in what I have to say. Some day I'll be publishing the English translation. Watch this space.
      Regarding City Opera - should the company never have existed?

      You know as well as I do that it existed long before Lincoln Center, and did just fine. The original purpose of the present article is to congratulate City Opera for moving out, and to wish them well.

      You may want to check out a couple of books I've written in the same vein. This one at least will make you laugh. This one... maybe not a good idea.

      Anyhoo...Thanks for trying to "engage." Be well.

      [The artists formerly known as Quill Mike Eat Brains]

      by WOIDgang on Fri Jul 01, 2011 at 08:10:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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