Thursday, December 30, 2010

Barbra Streisand: "Artist As Citizen"

Barbra Striesand “The Artist As Citizen” {from a Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government lecture Feb. 3, 1995}

“This is an important moment to deal with this subject because so much of what the artist needs to flourish is at risk now. When I was asked to speak here a year ago, I was much more optimistic [because] we had a President who judged our ethnic, cultural, and artistic diversity as a kind of strength rather than a weakness. And then came the election of 1994, and suddenly the progress of the recent past seemed threatened by those who hungered for the ‘good old days’ when women and minorities knew their place. In this resurgent reactionary mood, artists are derided as ‘the cultural elite’ and are convenient objects of scorn. And those institutions that have given Americans access to artistic works such as The National Endowment For The Arts and The Corporation For Public Broadcasting are in danger of being abolished.

All great civilizations have supported the arts. However the new Speaker Of The House, citing the need to balance the budget, insists that the arts programs be the first to go. But the Government’s contribution to the NEA and PBS is really quite meager. To put it in perspective, the entire budget of the NEA is equal to one F-22 fighter jet, a plane some experts say may not even be necessary. And the Pentagon is planning to build 442 of them. One less plane, and we’ve got the whole arts budget…! So maybe it’s not about shutting the minds and mouths of artists who might have something thought-provoking to say. In Victorian times there were signs requiring actors and dogs to eat in the kitchen, and as recently as last year artists who have spoken out politically have been derided as air-heads, bubbleheads, and nitwits….

Imagine having this kind of contempt for an industry that is second only to aerospace in export earnings abroad according to Business Week , Americans spent $340 billion on entertainment in 1993. Maybe policy-makers could learn something from and industry that makes billions while the Government owes trillions!”

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