This week: Our faithful correspondent Patricia Maloney sat down with former US Congressman Pat Williams and his son Griff Willams at Gallery 16 in San Francisco earlier this month to discuss the turbulence of the Culture Wars during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Patricia finally learned how legislating works in a conversation that ran the gamut from explaining Piss Christ to conservative parents and why Poker Jim Butte is the best place to catch some Shakespeare to how the NEA is vital to cultural production in rural communities and why now might be the moment to demand the return of federal grants for individual artists.
Rep. Pat Williams, who served Montana as its U.S. Congressman for nine terms, from 1979-1997, was Chairman of the House Committee that oversaw fiscal authorization for the NEA. He was one of the most vocal champions for Federal Arts Funding and has been credited for saving the NEA at a time when it was threatened with extermination by the religious Right. When the National Endowment for the Arts came under attack for subsidizing what some legislators considered sexually explicit art, Williams led the fight to save the agency. “As long as the federal government can support the arts without interfering with their content, government can indeed play a meaningful part in trying to encourage the arts,” Williams told The New York Times. “The genius of the NEA has been that the peer- review panels, made up of local folks, chose art and artists by using criteria based upon quality and excellence, never touching subject matter.”
“He was a tireless and fearless supporter of the arts,” reports John Frohnmayer, who served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts during that tumultuous era. “He risked his political career in doing so.” Frohnmayer recalls that Williams “called out the congressional critics of the Endowment for their duplicity and moral posturing.”
Last week on the NPR blog Monkey See, there was an interesting article by Linda Holmes about a new study released from the National Endowment for the Arts. In this study enticingly entitled “Age and arts participation: A case against demographic destiny,” the NEA talks about the decline in what are called “cultural omnivores.” These omnivores participate in many arts events. They go to the ballet, opera, and classical music concerts, which the NEA actually refers to as “highbrow” events, with “high cultural status.” But these same folks also participate in “middle- or low-brow events.” Cultural omnivores like music and theatre, and they also comprise a large percentage of gallery attendees. This makes sense to me because the study argues that our omnivorousness correlates to age—the younger we are, the more likely to participate in all sorts of cultural events. From what I’ve seen, this appears to be true. It seems gallery events usually do skew young. But the study also says that our greatest population of cultural omnivores were born before 1955. We are now breeding fewer and fewer omnivores.
In my circle, which I’m inclined to think is a lot like your circle, being able to competently consume across cultural status (high-, middle-, and low-brow) is the sign of well-integrated person, and dare I say it, a cool person. I mean, what good is being able to spend a contemplative half-hour with an Ellsworth Kelly if you can’t follow it with an evening on the sofa drinking beer and watching Total Recall on Blue-Ray? What concerns me is that this downward trend in omnivores is somehow reflective of our current state of American politics. Polarized red and blue.
In the NPR article, Holmes has a more optimistic take on the whole thing. She thinks that perhaps we are still just as omnivorous, it only looks different in this digital age. We no longer need to leave the house to engage in such events; we can bring these events to us. What would that make us? Cultural Localvores? A good example of this is when BBC’s Radio 3 started its Beethoven series. Listeners brought the server to its knees downloading classical podcasts. Now who would have expected that? Haven’t we all read those articles about how classical music is dead?
This study causes me to ponder what exactly it means to be culturally literate, and if it even matters anymore. Do people actually think about which events have “high cultural status”? The NEA study focuses a lot on what the decline of cultural omnivores means for arts funding, which is a bit dry unless arts funding is your thing. But the discussion of cultural omnivores that starts the study is fascinating.
Starting Memorial Day, May 31, 2010, through Labor Day, September 6, 2010 over 700 Museums will offer free admission to active military personnel and their families. This list organized by the National Endowment for the Arts & Blue Star Families (a non-partisan, non-profit organization, created by military families for military families) includes The Met, The MOMA, The Whitney, The Guggenheim, not to mention Chicago’s Art Institute & MCA. The complete museum list broken down by state can be found here.
This is a wonderful program that is both good politics, good business & good karma. I would love to see the Art Institute & MCA get together and lead the way by extending it to not only the summer but year round and for as long as America is at war. Our museums in all 50 states have a sum collection of history and culture that is unrivaled throughout the world. A treasure that every military personnel should be welcomed and encouraged to see with open arms.
Chicago is the city of tomorrow, lets have Chicago lead the way.
UPDATE: After speaking with Erin Hogan Director of Public Affairs with the Art Institute to clarify what the difference/change was in ongoing policy she explained that the established policy was active military were free but with Blue Star for the summer families of active military would be free as well. Also the website would be updated to better reflect this policy.
This is great to hear and hope it is a big success.
This week: Duncan and Richard talk to Madeleine Grynsztejn, the new Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago!
Stolen liberally from the MCA website, with a bit of BAS embellishment:
Grynsztejn was born in Lima, Peru, and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, and London, England. She studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and received her BA in art history and French from Newcomb College of Tulane University, and her MA in art history from Columbia University. She is a former Helena Rubenstein Fellow at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and a 2007 graduate of the Getty Foundation’s Museum Leadership Institute. Grynsztejn has written, lectured, and taught extensively on contemporary art. She served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Galeria de Arte Nacional in Caracas, among other agencies. She acted as a juror for the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, the American Academy in Rome, the Munich Kunstpreis in Germany, and the Tiffany Foundation Biennial Awards. She has also served on the advisory committees for the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the American Center in Paris. She is fluent in English, Spanish, and French. Her husband, Tom Shapiro, is a marketing consultant and a damn nice guy. Yes, Bad at Sports added the “damn nice guy” part, the MCA would never be so inappropriately casual in a blurb! How dare us. The nerve! It’s true though, he really is nice. Read more