Political Animals

Something Mittens said to an interviewer at Forbes

“[F]irst there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs — the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf. …”

Overlooking the “borrowed from other countries” part — it’s hardly the fault of Amtrack or PBS or the NEA that money has to be borrowed — the issue here is not whether government should pay for these things, or not, but whether we’re going to have them at all. Because, whether conservatives can admit it or not, not everything worthwhile and valuable can be supported through free enterprise.

The Right hates Amtrack because it hates all public transportation; what cannot be privatized must die. IMO a rail transportation system is one of those things, like the electric grid, that the private sector cannot be depended on to maintain. But for now I want to talk about the arts.

It so happens I’m on the board of directors of a local arts organization, which is a chorale. It’s a volunteer position; I take no money for it. I also typeset programs and fliers for the concerts so that we don’t have to pay a typesetter. Chorale members, who have to audition to be accepted, pay dues to the chorale to remain members. We enjoy the patronage of a large church that gives us a big break on renting rehearsal space and a concert venue. Our concerts usually are well attended, at $25 a ticket. We hold fundraisers such as auctions and spaghetti dinners to raise money. We grovel for donations pretty much perpetually.

And it’s still a struggle to stay afloat, because the fact is that it costs a whole lot of money to put on a live performance of a major choral work. Directors, rehearsal accompanists, vocal soloists, concert accompanists, orchestras, the insurance company, etc., all have to be paid, and the costs are way too high to cover with ticket sales, even when ticket sales are robust. In the past, this chorale has had SRO crowds of paying customers and still lost money on the concert. If we priced tickets at what we really needed to recoup cost, we wouldn’t be able to sell them.

It’s a fact of history that the fine arts always have depended on patronage, whether from the Church or the nobility or a government. Although you can find examples of great artists who managed to live on the sale of their works, you can find a lot more — even among the great masters of world art — who would have starved without the patronage of some wealthy individual or the church. And some of them did suffer real poverty at times.

In December the Chorale will be performing Bach’s Cantata 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, plus the Saint-Saëns Christmas Oratorio, with a small orchestra. In recent years we’ve been keeping costs down by performing works that didn’t require orchestral accompaniment, but now that part of the choral repertoire has been pretty much mined. And choruses tend to dry up if they don’t get to sing masterpieces like Wachet auf now and then. So, fingers crossed we don’t fall into too big a hole.

(BTW, Bach’s compositions didn’t earn him any royalties when he was alive. He depended on the patronage of Austrian royalty, who gave him music director and court composer positions. He was also widely admired as a keyboard performer. The Brandenburg Concertos were written for a Prussian prince as a kind of job application. He didn’t get the job. Bach’s compositions were not much performed in public until about a century after his death.)

It so happens we’re not eligible for state arts funding because we perform only two concerts a year. Any more than that would be pushing our members into more rehearsals and music-learning than most have time for. But there are many genuinely excellent vocal ensembles, orchestras, and even small opera companies I know of that depend on state arts council grants to keep going, and the state arts councils depend on money from the NEA to keep going. And I suspect if that money were to dry up, some of the donations given to our chorale probably would begin to flow to more prestigious groups. Also, many of our musicians and solo performers depend on getting gigs from arts council-funded organizations to pay their own bills, or they’d have to find new careers. So I believe we do benefit indirectly from the state arts council money in circulation.

If the NEA were to disappear, probably only the biggest and best-endowed performing arts organizations would survive. Even some big-city orchestras and opera companies probably would be endangered. And those performing arts organizations really do provide jobs to a lot of people, including sheet music printers and instrument makers. Plus they draw customers to restaurants and other businesses in the concert venue neighborhood. And people really do turn out to hear live performances of masterpieces; I have seen it with my own tired eyes.

So, basically, what we’re talking about is not whether taxpayers should help fund the arts, but whether we have fine arts available to the general public at all. I know less about the economics of visual arts, such as galleries and museums, so I don’t know how much they depend on NEA money. But it would be devastating to performing arts.

And, y’know, it’s going to be a lovely concert, in a beautiful church decorated with Christmas greenery, and people can come into a church to listen to masterpieces of sacred music at Christmastime. You’d think that would be the sort of thing conservatives would want to, you know, conserve. But I guess not.

18 thoughts on “Political Animals

  1. Just a few days ago, on Think Progress, I was trying to explain – with the greatest of brevity – why we in the US have government supported programs. I referred to the history of railroads in this country and the necessity of providing continuous support for that and similar huge undertakings. The rightie with whom I was arguing kept throwing red herrings into the conversation – the French support their railways, which is why the French government is in trouble and anyway, the French have no backbone, etc. – I finally lost my temper and asked heaven why I was such a troll magnet. Whereupon, my conversational partner got serious and said anything that could not support itself should die. You know, the usual. He really believes that and thinks we should just do without any activity which is not profitable.
    But I don’t want to live in a world like that. Your description of the struggle arts programs go through to achieve their goals was right on. Presumably, if you can’t afford arts programs, then you don’t attend – they don’t exist for you.
    but I refuse to think that all of us want to live in a world like that.

  2. GOP POV:
    You want everyone else to help pay for your Communist Christmas Concert!
    Well, it is, after all, a “CHRISTMAS Concert,” even if it’s put on by Godless Communists! So…
    Still – that acronym speaks for itself: Communist Christmas Concert – “CCC!!!” Like in that FDR scam to take the money from good Conservatives, and redistribute it to the poor people!
    Ok, NOW we see what you’re doing here!!!

    Having been involved in Community Theatre for decades – and my sister and the rest of my, and her, family in other artistic venues – cutting money from the “Arts” to save the Conservative-caused deficit, is like asking the sober people on the ship to start throwing the ice-cubes at the bar off The Titanic.

  3. If we’re really forced to borrow money from foreign governments simply to make ends meet, maybe we ought to consider ways to raise the money ourselves instead of arguing about cutting programs that contribute minimally to that debt?

  4. Civilizations are remembered for their contributions to culture and the arts, not simply for how much revenue thay generate. Who wants to sit around on Christmas eve and review a budget? ‘Not much fun in that unless you’re Scrooge Mc Duck.I’ll go for some glugg and a roaring fire with friends and family though
    Lynne, our interstate highway system and railways are what is known in the transportation industry as “defense critical”. This means they are essential for the movement of troops and military equipment. I did not understand the significance of that until 9/11/01, when there was a possibility that we were under a prolonged attack.
    If a righty troll starts badmouthing Amtrack, just let him know it is “defense critical”.
    I’ve yet to meet a righty who didn’t worship all things martial.

  5. Yes, Erinyes, I should have remembered that. Especially since my father, in R&D at various aerospace companies during his working life was once working on a government plan to shoot missiles mounted on railroad cars as part of the defense system during Cold War days. (What a goofy idea, by the way).

  6. erinyes,
    The rational behind Ike’s support for the building of the interstate highway program, was to facilitate the movement of the military, in case of necessity.
    He had seen what the Autobahn had done for Hitler’s Germany, and how much not having anything like it in occupied nations, cost him and his country.

    And, for any people who have believed that all of those wonderful ‘Loops’ around our major urban areas were to facilitate the flow of traffic, I have news for you – it was to allow for the military to sorround a city in case of insurrection or disease.

    THAT kind of infrastructure, our, or any, government, will ALWAYS approve!
    The rest, like SS, Medicare, Medicaid, or “The Arts,” well, uhm, not so much…

  7. Most rightwingers wouldn’t want to pay for the highway system today. They would kick and scream about taxes are wasteful and too high. Righties just want everything for free. They are freeloaders of the worst kind. They want what they want but don’t want to pay for it or work for it.

  8. That’s the rightie world view, however. The ‘put everything to the market’ litmus test. Never mind that we would never have many of the works of art, painting, drawing, writing, music, etc. hat we have today. But what you will be left with is basically Wal-Mart for the arts. A few large companies will control everything, and you’ll never get a chance to hear that great, obscure opera you’ve loved your whole life.

  9. I would think that righties would say we don’t need PASSENGER rail transportation for critical defense needs. They would say that we also have commercial shipping rail connections and they would provide the needed rail lines.

    Anyway, I like Amtrak. I’m glad we have it. I have used it often.

    At Suburban Guerrilla I saw a posting about some baker — a woman — who doesn’t want to accept food stamp tokens for her baked goods at the green market where she sells her goods. She doesn’t believe people on public assistance should be buying things like dessert — food, yes, but not dessert stuff. Apparently she’s been on a Forbes TV show or in the magazine talking about her ideas.


  10. The people who complain about things like this are, we know full well, small-minded and narrow-thinking. Why on earth would you expect them to understand the value of something like the arts!?

    Also, why is using money borrowed from other countries not okay to spend on the arts, but one hundred percent okay to spend on the military?

    As someone who is heavily involved with an arts group here in Canada, btw, I commend you for keeping your chorale alive — I know full well how hard it is! Up here we’ve only had conservatives cutting freely for a couple of years, but we’re feeling it too. Unfortunately they’ve been watching the US, and taking notes…

  11. And yet I read a couple days ago that Ryan is blasting Obama over defense cuts. We spend more on the military than all other countries combined. Our spending, adjusted for inflation, is twice that of the Eisenhower years, when were facing a real enemy.

    These people have such depressing, screwed up priorities. And Romney will say anything he’s told to say, there’s no moral center there.

  12. Odd what R-money can immediately specify as cut-worthy when the really big money issues of his “buget” are kept hidden.

    A recent DKos diarist wrote a segment-by-segment precis of Mittens’ nearly-numberless so-called “budget” that made that point that it is not a document that takes a serious approach to making the numbers work.

    I suffered through 8 years of Bush-Cheney. I figured that once in a while there was just a long lapse between flushes. I don’t think I can breathe that stink again.

  13. If Republicans don’t want us borrowing money from “other countries” to pay for government services, then they shouldn’t have gone off to destroy a couple other countries during the Bush administration without raising taxes to pay for it.

    If we’re suddenly gonna get in a huff about having to borrow money to fund things that the government does, let’s start by cutting our defense expenditures. That’s where the real money is. We probably spent more money on sending supplies to Afghanistan via the northern route a few months back when we’d pissed of Pakistan than we spend on the NEA all year.

  14. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

    GOP Congressmen drunk, naked, and skinny-dipping, in Israel:


    Too bad the story doesn’t have a photo of them caught up in fishing nets, or the headline might read:
    “Net – And YAHOO’S!”

    I’d settle for ‘Ghouls Gone Wild!”

    Sometimes life isn’t perfect like that – but it’s still pretty good.

    Must have been the Manischewitz talking… stripping… swimming……….
    Republicans – your party of “Family Values.”

    Nothing to see here. Move along.
    I said, MOVE ALONG!!!

  15. A few more headlines, now that I think about it:
    “Nuts In The Water.”
    The Sea of GuysInGlee.”
    “The Gaza Strip!”

    Ok, that’s enough from me.
    Anyone else care to dive in?

  16. In hell, Jesse Helms is grinning from ear to ear. When demons aren’t chewing his ears off over and over, that is.

  17. Lynne – they’re a lost cause. You may as well be conversing with a wall as with a Republican.

    Example: Harper’s recently published a statistic – 2 our of 3 Republicans believe to this day that Sadaam had WMD’s. Evidence? Certain that believing it makes it true, they need no further evidence to verify.

    Change topic – Borrowing from foreign governments? We’ve been borrowing at the rate of about $500 billion/year for 35 years from foreign governments. Who knew that funding the arts was that expensive?

  18. I would like to weigh in on cutting PBS funding. I am in total support of funding the arts not just PBS and I think before we go giving tax cuts to ANYONE we should fund the arts. I don’t support tax cuts of people to have over priced horses in the bullshit name of therapy when they can afford the damn horse on their own and don’t need a tax break to afford it.I don’t buy that therapy crap. I can get her a free horse if she needs therapy that can do the same thing her over priced olympic one can do for her. Not when we cannot afford the arts.

    Now my favorite station happens to be PBS. Their news HOUR almost has substance and is the only news I would even consider watching and my all time favorite show “History detectives” can be found there on tue nights. If you have never seen this program – watch it. It is like brain crack that makes learning fun and interesting. It makes me beg for more like a kid begging to read just a few more pages of a story before bed. I am all atwitter just thinking about getting another episode tomorrow! Even if you know the story behind what they are researching you will learn something you didn’t already know. TV ,as a whole is a place to dumb down. Not during this show. If you watch for the first time- A. you will most likely be hooked and B. you can watch more shows from the past on PBS.ORG anytime. There has never been a bad show and even things they research that I don’t think will be of interest to me end up keeping me on the edge of my seat. Just try the show, then thank me later.

    It is unfair for me to not add that my beloved parrot Paul.E.Bird is a PBS kid. He watches all the day time programs for kids(curious george is his goofy time). He gets kinda pissy on the weekends when there are no shows for him to watch, so perhaps we should let my angry cockatoo deal with whom ever sends PBS away, God help em!- I bet he could teach them not to mess with HIS PBS! All joking aside because of PBS he can count, he has added NONE swear words to his vocabulary and he is much calmer. Now I get that that does not matter, but I cannot tell you how many times I have thought, walking by Paul’s tv how many children, with and without good parents were getting a head start on learning from watching programs like the electric company, ect. I try to focus what I teach Paul based on him being able to tell me what he wants/needs like food names or teaching him his body parts so he can tell me if he hurts so I was not worried about things like colors or shapes, numbers, alphabet. Turns out PBS has covered that and if my parrot is learning children are too! I am not a parent myself , but in my life time I have observed many. Most were good parents who taught their kids twice the stuff they were suppose to know before their first day of school. Others either didn’t know to, didn’t care or they were so busy just with the day to day “keep em fed, bathed and work every other second of the day” I am not sure when they would have fit in basic education(thank goodness(or a DEMOCRAT ) for head start). I think the good Not just PBS but the arts as a whole bring far out weighs the cost.

    I hear a lot of tea baggers screaming about the end of PBS and publically funded education and I cannot for the life of me see what they are thinking. As a tax payer and a person who has no children I am THRILLED to have my taxes go to fund education for the kids in my community. I am proud as hell to contribute when I pay taxes.I am glad to see my money go towards something that matters to me. I am glad to invest in childrens futures that I don’t even know. And they must see that an educated society is a working society which means tax revenue. What will become of kids too poor to get an education? Do they not understand we will have to pay later to house them when they become to ill or turn to crime to survive?Already our jails are a joke. I currently know of a person on her 3rd trip to prison for drugs this time she got 22 years..total time she will serve? 18 months. Why? Our budget cannot afford the cost of keeping them longer. Maybe we need a loan from a foreign government.

    Before they cut the arts, perhaps they could sell bonds to fund them. Yeah it’s that important! Or we could open a bud tent in Iowa…I hear they bring in 25 k an hour!

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