Tough Love for the Arts

Loved 'Tough'

I never thought I would be writing to praise anything in Seattle Weekly; I would usually be inclined to send a somewhat obscene, critical e-mail, as many of my political views tend to be different than those offered by your paper. However, I must thank Roger Downey for his article on funding of the arts ["Tough Love for the Arts," Jan. 19]. He has expressed concerns that appear to be obviously correct but never seem to be acknowledged by any local arts organization.

I have often thought that public funding combined with larger private and institutional donations does little to advance true work—the actual creation of art—and instead tends to allow the proliferation of mediocre work that must satisfy public taste and donors' egos.

James Brandalise


Siegfried or the Simpsons?

In "Tough Love for the Arts" [Jan. 19], Roger Downey raises important questions with his customary panache and certainly makes the case for letting the arts institutions of Seattle, at least, twist in the wind of market forces. I was surprised, however, to see his analogy between the arts—the ballet, the opera—and commercial enterprises such as a plumbing business. In establishing the distinction between nonprofit and profit-making organizations, the government has recognized that there is a difference, economically speaking, between opera singers and plumbers. Is Downey suggesting that we extend the same "tough love" to other nonprofits? Universities? Charities? The possibilities are as fascinating as they are chilling.

It is also misleading to lump all modes of expression under the rubric "the arts." Some of the finest comic writing today can be heard in The Simpsons; however, a syndicated television show and the ballet are not comparable in the ways they earn their income or in terms of the audiences to whom they intend to appeal. And while we're on the subject of appeals, I also wonder about Downey's disdain for yearly ones from arts organizations. While, technically, it is true that, as he puts it, "organizations do not create art. Artists create art," it is also true that most artists are supported to some measure by institutions. In the case of the performing arts, it is impossible for artists to function without the full assistance of institutions. Ballets cannot be made in cafes or on sidewalks. Theater requires rehearsal rooms with heat and light, a staff whose salaries ensure their dedication to the enterprise, and actors and playwrights who aren't trying to work on dialogue while at day jobs.

It may be that ballet, classical music, opera, and spoken-word theater, produced live in a physical surrounding that brings together large groups of people focused on a common imaginative experience, have had their day in America. That's fine with me; I've had the advantages of all of them and can live on my memories. The fact that it might be cheating the future to let them languish is probably one of those "boring" moral notions that, in 2005, are considered quaint, along with the Geneva Conventions. Even so, if one is going to cut these arts off at the knees, just do it, without holding out the false hope that some reasonable substitution is going to spring up like grass from the street. The substitution, I think, is to plop the 10th-grade class in front of reruns of The Simpsons. Not quite the same thing as a first-class performance of Siegfried.

Mindy Aloff

Brooklyn, NY

The Arts Fight Blight

Roger Downey's cover story "Tough Love for the Arts" [Jan. 19] asks "whether taxpayers should be on the hook for artistic ambitions gone wrong." In our country, relatively few tax dollars support the arts. In performance-based arts organizations, roughly 50 percent of their income is derived from "contributed" sources, according to Theatre Communications Group's annual survey. Less than 10 percent of that comes from government sources.

Artists and their organizations famously move into blighted neighborhoods where they can afford the rent—and before long spin garbage into gold. Locally we can credit the transformation of Belltown, the West Seattle Junction, and Georgetown in part to artists and arts organizations whose influence made those once-depressed areas attractive and safe for new businesses. Arts organizations increase real-estate values, create jobs, and expand the tax base in much greater proportion than public investment in them would suggest.

Although Downey is correct when he says, "When arts organizations fold, art doesn't fold with them," he misses the point. When arts organizations fold, many artists are forced back into day jobs and to the studios, clubs, open mikes, and "coffeehouse napkins" where he suggests art should be purchased. Artists begin their careers in such venues, subsidizing their art with their own labor and money, and usually the club owners are the only ones who benefit financially. Arts organizations offer artists their best hope of transcending the cellars with a fighting chance at a livelihood in their field.

Michael Harris

Producing Artistic Director, ArtsWest Playhouse and Gallery


Lenin And Chief Seattle

Robert Myers must be a newcomer! How else could he get this "issue" so wrong ["And One More Idea . . . Fremont, Tear That Lenin Statue Down!" Jan. 19]? The statue of Lenin in Fremont is neither kitsch nor commie-friendly. It's not a commentary on the Cold War, nor does it ignore the legacies of that era. It simply seeks (like all of us) to limit the dominance of various prevailing attitudes on life by creating just a little space for itself. The statue is a thumb in the eye of convention, of the acceptable, of the controlled and dictated "respectable" forms of thinking. As such, it is as much a symbol of Seattle as the statue of Chief Seattle.

Zach Reed

Phoenix, AZ

Lenin No Disgrace

Boy was I shocked when I read Robert Myers' article on Lenin's statue ["And One More Idea . . . Fremont, Tear That Lenin Statue Down!" Jan. 19]. I thought I had picked up a right-wing magazine by mistake. Is this anticommunist piece of baloney, disguised as fact, the Weekly going with the flow of ultraconservatism because Bush got elected? Since when are assertions like "Lenin has been thoroughly disgraced" printed as if they were true? Sure, the corporate kingpins and capitalist governments have always hated Lenin, but the people of the world love and respect him. Not because he is trendy, but because he led a successful revolution to give them a chance at a decent life by ending poverty, war, and capitalism. The reason that he is trendy, though, is the same reason Che is: because they were brave and fought to establish a better system that gives people hope who are in the midst of our private profit nightmare.

Adrienne Weller


Move Over, Paul Harvey

Professing nostalgia for something that never really existed was once the domain of reactionary conservatives. Perhaps it still is. Knute Berger's Mossback column is continuing its slide into a kind of Paul Harvey–esque quaint curmudgeonly irrelevance ["Who Killed Lesser Seattle?" Jan. 19].

Some points are well taken. Our libraries should be open more and full of books. The viaduct plan seems a bit extravagant. Seattle ain't and, hopefully, won't ever be a whole heck of a lot like Manhattan. The rest of the column is defeatist and sad and doesn't take into account Seattle's role in the region.

The underlying mistake Berger makes is the misconception that Seattle is for Seattleites alone. That it exists in some kind of vacuum separate from the realities that exist in the rest of the state. Seattle is actually a golden resource for the entire Northwest. Seattle and its siblings Tacoma and Portland (perhaps Berger's model cities now) are the Northwest's economic drivers, cultural centers, and lonely outposts of civilization. As such, Seattle has a duty to grow. Not randomly, not like a cancer, but like a coral reef with each generation building on the successes and failures of its past.

Sprawl is the real enemy facing our quality of life. I have no fear of Seattle transforming into a Manhattan in my lifetime or even several generations from now. I am horrified, however, by the threat of the rest of the region turning into New Jersey.

Tom Gannon


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