"The general feeling about the Peoria thing was 'Whoops!' " he told me last fall. "Not my feeling at all. I'm sorry, but there's nothing I'd retract in what I was saying." Last month he said he "loves" the people in Peoria, but he still wouldn't take back a word."Jeremy McCarter, the Newsweek correspondent writing ths story, seems to find this idiocy oh-so-charming: "When the 62-year-old Landesman says heterodox things like this," he write, "he breaks into a little grin: the more heterodox the sentiment, the bigger the grin. But this isn't stubbornness or a wicked streak talking. Landesman is asserting a principle here, one that marks the first real change of his tenure."
And that principle is to break out the old ax handle term "excellence," long undefined (I guess, like porn, you just know it when you see it), mostly reflective of budget, and highly urbanized. But hey, it's a principle, right? McCarter explains:
"Throughout its 45-year history, the NEA has tried to strike a balance between fostering artistic excellence and broadening access to underserved communities. Landesman's predecessor, Gioia, emphasized access, boasting of sending grants to all 435 congressional districts—a policy that, not coincidentally, pleased the 435 members of the House. Landesman, for his part, makes a more spirited case for excellence."Actually, this is a self-serving description. Gioia didn't emphasize "access," he emphasized the fact that the NEA is supposed to be a national endowment, and that there was artistic activity taking place all over the country, not just in big city institutions that have been around long enough to Hoover up most of the arts funding. Recognizing he might be sounding a bit too Nylachi (notice the three cities he mentions -- I'm not going to claim that he's been reading Theatre Ideas, but I do have a grant from the NEA...one that will probably not be renewed because I'm not in Nylachi), he mouths, "Now art is not just in the big cities. It's everywhere—it's all around the country, and we support it where we find it. We're not limited to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles," he says." Wherever we find it, and find that it is created in wealthy institutions by mainstream artists preferably imported from Nylachi... "But I do believe this notion of putting a grant in every single county and congressional district because it's a county and congressional district, even when there's no valid recipients, when there are no arts organizations to speak of, is crazy."
Valid recipients. Are you catching this? Are you seeing the way the language of "excellence," of "validity," is used to mask the real ideas, which are "privileged" and "urban"? But he's willing to throw a bone: "Landesman acknowledges that this is "to some degree a shift in the NEA viewpoint." He knows that it might make life difficult on Capitol Hill, even though the new focus doesn't mean that the agency is going to abandon swaths of the country. The NEA's arts-education programs, for instance, will continue to reach communities everywhere. "
And like Lou Costello thrown over to third base, we are passed over to Michael Kaiser, who will tell us that money spent on arts education is well-spent because it will inspire some kids like Leontyne Price to leave home for NYC and make her hometown proud by singing everywhere except her hometown.
I discovered this article a few moments after having read this inspirational blog post by Suzanne Lainson at Brands plus Music (h/t Don Hall and Cal Pritner). I would recommend that Landesman read it, and read it carefully, and then look up and see the bus bearing down on the arts. His attitudes are old fashioned, elitist, and ultimately dangerous to the health of the arts. And this is the man that I was advised I should give a chance after the Peoria quotation.
I'm going to mash together pictures of Michael Kaiser and Rocco Landesman and use them as emblems of just what CRADLE is fighting against.