There’s been outrage in Pittsburgh recently due to the Pgh Opera bestowing an honor upon Governor Corbett and his wife for exemplary support of the arts. That outrage is absolutely justified, attested by the numerous regional Letters to the Editor, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial of May 11, numerous online writings, but especially in the arts education statistics across the state. It could not be stated better than from the teachers who are revolting against massive education cuts and arts teachers, particularly, and none more emphatically than language arts teacher Steven Singer (Post-Gazette 5/10/12). He expressed, “No one has done more to devastate education -- especially arts education -- in the past two years than this honoree!” He ends, “Pittsburgh Opera, you couldn't be more out of touch and insulting to those of us who actually educate. Teachers like me don't expect a thank you, but we sure do hate a slap in the face. Bravo!”
Well its about time for this public rage, shown as well by the recent protests outside Opera headquarters in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. We have the OCCUPY movement and the active-protesting unions (Steelworkers, SEIU, CWA) to thank-- for the current bestowal of “coragio” to not only the teachers but everyday citizens (from the wealthier suburbs, yet, as evidenced by school districts predominantly represented in the Letters) to get out and raise some noise about what Singer aptly described as “farce.”
But the farce extends far beyond this debacle. Artists and creative workers get slapped in the face continually by the self-proclaimed “for the Arts” nonprofits. The Pgh. Opera, Pgh. Cultural Trust, Greater Pgh. Arts Council, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, et al into every state, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts (which was decimated under Reagan and never fully recovered)-- you name it as a supposed cultural advocacy organization and it can be exposed that these entities “couldn’t be more out of touch and insulting to those of us who actually”...create (and thus usually educate as well).
These organizations are the 1% of the art world. They are ruled by money, are blind to those in their community that have done more for the arts and culture than they could ever creatively conceive, and they will fight tooth and nail not only this assessment but for those ludicrous honors to individuals political and otherwise.
Artists themselves can attest that the policies of these agencies are entirely incapable of making measurable, significant difference in the lives of the tens of thousands of true working artists in this city, state and country. Because helping the arts is something which is best done when you support working individual creative artists... and the teachers attempting to educate young brains to think creatively. Add to that all the creative workers in film and stage who labor to make the arts happen, yet their collective union is essentially locked out of a city’s stages (I.A.T.S.E. Local 3 in Pgh).
Local arts groups here in Pittsburgh ridiculously commend each other. Similar organizations and nonprofits across the country equally feel as if they’re doing novel and important things for their community, wrapped up in their illusions of support as they cheer each other on yet fool the artist, the public and themselves with their policies. Funders are ignorant about those actual creators they’re supposed to encourage and sponsor-- who ironically give reason for the existence of administrator salaries!
A decade ago, I published a book about a woman artist and her work, and the role of that work in both larger American society and the art world. Esther Phillips and her friends, both in Pittsburgh and Greenwich Village, lamented mainstream society’s ill-regard for creative work. How ironic there would exist a 1% in her very world, the arts, that are so wrapped up in their monied pursuits--chasing development projects and status symbol and faux honors-- that they become clueless to what culture really is.
For there is an utter lack of wise and honest design of local, state and national funding bodies for artists, as well as organizations that actually do for the creative artist. (Some exceptions exist in Minneapolis, Chapel Hill and elsewhere.) But there are policy and funding alternatives far more sane, just, creative and do-able.
I have been among a community of artists and creative workers for 25 years in Pittsburgh, and have crossed creative paths a myriad of times with others from across the U.S. We create and we teach. We are involved in our communities. We are pretty much invisible to the art establishment. We are given a little funding and recognition when we are “emerging” or somehow adopted as a city’s “darling” troupe.
What usually happens is the true creative artist takes matters into his own hands, as myself and many colleagues long have, pursuing our creative output despite the lack of recognition and funding from the art 1%. But our input can and will shape future policy.
The public needs to get wise to all of this-- to the joke that the Corbett honor indeed was, to how money is as tangled around arts and education as politics, and to how illusory arts advocacy really is in America. Bravo, teachers, for spearheading the focus on the Opera’s folly and energizing some new folks into this emerging and lasting fold that will eventually present those of us truly “too big to fail”-- the 99%.
Lisa A. Miles is a professional musician, performer, speaker, teacher, personal/ professional development consultant and writer working on her third book, “Creative Folly: The Illusory Support of Artists by American Arts Organizations & Funders.” More: www.lisamilesviolin.com