Monday, August 24, 2009

The Arts, the Budget & Pennsylvania: Continued

On July 14th, there was a rally to support funding for the arts in Pennsylvania, organized by Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania.

As of August 24th, Pennsylvania is still without a budget.

Here is a video clip posted initially on Facebook by Stuart Landon who was at that July rally in the Capitol Rotunda.

He was standing not far from me, near the back of the main entryway, facing the steps. It's a little noisy, the audio may be a little hard to understand at times, and it's heavily edited – the whole rally was 90-minutes long – but I think it will you give you more than just a taste of what was happening there:
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Yesterday, the Patriot-News in Harrisburg printed an article written by Rep. Dwight Davis, D-Philadelphia, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and one of the more electrifying speakers at the July Rally for the Arts.

He begins the article by describing a beautiful summer evening in Harrisburg's Reservoir Park, watching the Gamut Classics' Shakespeare Festival production of Cymbeline – where the audience included “teens and senior citizens, families with children, single adults and empty nesters. And it was free.

"Before the show, a troupe member urged the audience to support the arts. 'Call your legislators,' she said. 'Tell them not to cut funding for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.'

"What she should have said was: 'Thank you. You made this happen. Your state tax dollars helped pay for this production.'"

It is productions like this that help bring The Arts (with or without a Capital A) to the public, rather than keeping them locked up in books or dark rooms out of sight, out of hearing, out of mind, accessible only to those who are already familiar with them.

It is an idea like “funding for the arts is a luxury that can be eliminated when the money gets tight” that helps perpetuate the argument that the arts are elitist and exist only for the entertainment of a small niche in the community at large, that funding for the arts is therefore expendable.

If arts organizations of any kind in this state are going to continue to exist after the proposed budget “zeroes out” funding for them, those that are still able to present performances will only make it more elitist because only the wealthy will be able to afford the ticket prices.

It's not just performances of Shakespeare or Classical Music. Yes, a large part of it also involves bringing the opportunity to students in the rural counties of Pennsylvania to take music lessons after school or attend a drama camp to experience making the arts first-hand, not just passively.

It is sometimes these discoveries that influence a child's future – not necessarily to turn them into future artists (though what's wrong with that?) or future audience members but to help make them better educated, well-rounded individuals who can experience life a little differently, with a little more depth and understanding of everything else going on around them.

Cutting what educational projects exist for the arts in the schools will hurt Pennsylvania students across the commonwealth, offering them even less than the nearly nothing it already does.

Meanwhile, some 55 days into the new Fiscal Year, the state government is still debating funding the Pennsylvania Council for the Arts with $14.6 Million.

Yet, as an editorial in today's Patriot-News points out, the arts statewide pays back $283 Million in taxes.

The arts support 62,000 jobs.

People who support the arts – even just buying a ticket to see a concert or a show or attend an exhibit – will spend a little more money along the way, adding some $2 Billion dollars to the state's total economy.

Cutting that money will damage a lot more than just the image of Pennsylvania as a great place to live with a well-rounded quality of life when we'd be the only state in the nation WITHOUT a council for the arts!

At the July rally, people were passing out buttons advocating a “nickel-a-week” – the Patriot-News editorial chimes in saying it would cost “two-cents-a-week” - for taxpayers to support the arts at this level.

Trust me, when we're talking about all the tax-payer money that's being spent in this (or any other) state for good causes or for bad ones, $14.6 Million is not a lot of money in the over-all scheme-of-things. And cutting $14.6 Million dollars out of the final budget is not going to bring down the $1 Billion difference between the proposed budgets by any huge amount.

It's not too late to write your legislators in support of arts funding in Pennsylvania! You can find out more about this here.

And you can read a couple of my previous posts, here.

- Dr. Dick
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Thanks to Stuart Landon for permission to post his rally video.

Thanks also to Sean Adams, a former co-worker of mine, now also among the laid-off and unemployed artists in the state, for pointing me toward the two most recent Patriot-News articles.

The uncredited rally photo (posted by the Patriot-News) focuses on sign-holder Melissa Dunphy, another former co-worker, who's gone on to become an employed actor in Philadelphia while pursuing a graduate degree in music composition (her Gonzales Cantata, setting the transcripts of the Senate judiciary hearings of the former Attorney General, will be performed in a different rotunda in Philadelphia at the Philly Fringe, Sept. 4-5-6, 2009).

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