Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=157023
Story Retrieval Date: 1/26/2015 11:46:09 PM CST
All lines by John McCain have been taken from the “Stimulus Checkup” report published by McCain and Sen. Tom Coburn.
All lines by Shakespeare are in blank verse. Single lines come from his published works.
All lines by Deborah Stewart and Victoria Hutter are quotes from interviews with both.
(Chicago, amid recession, 2009. In the bleak economy, budget deficits and decreased consumer spending threaten the city’s lively arts scene. A single room, dark, save for a light above a conference table. JOHN MCCAIN, UNCLE SAM, and WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE enter the room.)
The laments pour in like tributaries to the river—the street pavers, the teachers and the suit-and-tie types alike. We flood together. We wade together. We need together. But we must also act together, and swiftly, damming these banks that overflow.
My friends, the federal government must join American families in prioritizing its spending by making tough decisions.
But every decision is a tough decision. Who’s to say that one man’s livelihood trumps another’s? Bread on the table is bread on the table, whether it comes from a pothole filled or a patrol car on the street. A job is a job.
Congress needs to make hard choices and eliminate things that are a low priority—even if doing so is unpopular—so we can preserve this country for future generations.
But what price has art? What of social debts?
We talk of pillaged vaults, empty billfolds.
We count the shutter boards of foreclosed homes
and bailout fueled cars driving off lots.
But what of culture fleeced? A bookless child?
This country wants jobs and she deserves jobs.
But when the strings pull tight, art chokes for life.
Is man still man without theory or thought?
In these murky waters, art may be more dead weight than ballast.
To be or not to be—that is the question for these stimulus projects.
(VICTORIA HUTTER, public affairs specialist at National Endowment for the Arts and DEBORAH STEWART, director of foundations and government relations at Steppenwolf Theater, enter.)
An arts job is like any other job. Artists have families to support, kids who go to college. They pay taxes; they have mortgages. They are of the same value as any other job in the economy.
These stimulus dollars allow us to continue our seasonal planning without having to change what we had in place. The recession hit well into where we were in our long-term planning. In terms of stimulus grants, they will help us preserve lines of employment that we had been planning for.
Spending $25,000 for a puppet show may not seem like a big deal in Washington, but for most Americans it is a lot of money.
But one might argue that funds to arts organizations go directly into circulation. There aren’t other steps that have to be accomplished before those funds have to be utilized in the economy. In that respect it’s a useful form of economic assistance.
An honest tale speeds best being plainly told.
Americans who have lost their jobs, health insurance, or homes, are facing mounting personal debts, but are also faced with the question of who will pay off the staggering national debt that has grown by more than $1.4 trillion over the past year.
Can a country in such dire straits support the arts? With hungry mouths to feed and the common man in fear of sleeping on the street, is this endeavor a worthwhile one?
It’s a side of the arts community that hasn’t been talked about in years, but it’s gaining more understanding. People are looking at arts infrastructure and how it fits in with other economic sectors and its role in the economy.
Ticket sales are holding their own at this point. But there’s no question the arts suffer during the recession. The state is looking at dire times and perhaps funding is drying up there, or at least there will be severely reduced grants. We’re looking at hard times to come.
If we are to do this, we must act swiftly and succinctly.
As soon as the president signs this bill, we will be at work. We have a system in place. We will work with organizations we are already familiar with. Anyone who has applied to the National Endowment for the Arts in the last four years will be eligible for money. We will have two rounds: State and regional grants, and direct grants.
But how best can we apply this money?
The money has to support a job recently vacated or threatened to be vacated. It cannot create a new job, and 40 percent of grant-making funds go to state arts agencies and regional arts organizations around the country.
Is this truly feasible?
Completely. These applicants can only get one bite from the apple. They can get state money or direct money. Non-profits arts are a resourceful and creative bunch—it’s part of their day-to-day work.
The object of art is to give life a shape.
(UNCLE SAM walks forward, in front of the conference table, alone under the spotlight. JOHN MCCAIN, SHAKESPEARE, VICTORIA and DEBORAH exit stage.)
It was George Washington who once said, “Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: For your pocketbook not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved.” We must heed the words of this founding father in our time of need. We must separate the wheat from chaff, but must not confuse intangibility with uselessness. Man requires food and shelter, for certain, but his soul needs nourishment just the same. This seed of art allows us to re-grow and prosper. We will support the arts. We will save jobs. And they will be jobs with value just as any other. Sins of omission are sins just the same, and neglecting the arts would be unwise. To that end, they are fully a part in the fibers of the American ideal: Those unalienable rights we call life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
(UNCLE SAM exits)