A Role for the Arts

And on it goes. The opera controversy continues today with the announcement that a leading figure in the arts community has resigned from the board of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council (GPAC) after it sent out a “one sided ‘fact-sheet’” last Friday. Charlie Humphrey, CEO and executive director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Pittsburgh Center for the Arts – and who helped found GPAC – said, “the opera’s actions are deeply controversial” and that the “arts community…is deeply divided over this event.” [Post-Gazette, 5-15-12]

GPAC apparently felt that our original blog piece, “Arts Education an Operatic Tragedy,” and the resulting firestorm in social media, were spreading “misinformation about funding for the arts.” Of course, this has never been about state support for arts organizations – which Gov. Corbett has kept level-funded – this is about the $1 BILLION in state cuts to public education. These devastating cuts have forced school districts across the state to slash arts programs, as the hundreds and hundreds of posts to the Opera Facebook page made clear. For example:

  • CAPA, Pittsburgh’s flagship arts high school, is losing another $500,000 and is talking about cutting music instruction
  • Pittsburgh Public Schools are cutting music teachers, instrumental programs, and band directors across the district – not to mention librarians, foreign languages, special education, and tutoring programs for the most struggling students
  • Poorer districts in our area such as Sto-Rox have already eliminated arts programs altogether (along with AP classes, reading specialists, school supplies and school maintenance) [Post-Gazette, 5-13-12]
  • Even more stable districts such as Bethel Park are making deep cuts, including to its famed instrumental program
  • This is happening all over the state: outside Philadelphia 1,000 people recently protested the elimination of arts, music, library, foreign language, technical instruction, and physical education [“1,000 People”]

This is not about arts funding vs. education funding. We must have both. They both exist for the public good (that is why arts organizations carry the non-profit designation and receive state funding). This controversy sparked such intense interest and went viral so quickly precisely because people are passionate about the arts. Over 300 people showed up at the Operatic Rally on Saturday because they care deeply about art education in their schools: they know this is how we create future artists, arts audiences, and well rounded citizens capable of critical thinking.

This is why the public was astounded when it learned that the Opera would honor Corbett with a lifetime achievement award “for his early work as a teacher as well as his long-standing protection of the public interest” and for his recognition of “the economic, educational, and social value of the arts.” Corbett taught high school for one year in the Pine Grove Area School District in Schuylkill County. Perhaps if he had stayed in education longer he would realize what is actually happening to arts education in our schools. He certainly has not “protected the public interest” by slashing public education.

Artists and arts organizations constantly struggle for financial support themselves, which ought to make them keenly sensitive to this issue. What’s more, the arts have always been intimately tied up in politics and patronage: to claim that the arts are somehow “above politics” or “a-political” is at once naive and farcical. And yet, the arts have the ability to speak truth to power in a unique way (it’s no surprise that despots so often get rid of artists, poets, and historians in their attempt to maintain authority).

It’s time to do some truth-speaking about this state budget and the arts can play a starring role. I invite the 230 arts entities represented by GPAC to join us in telling our state legislators that we must have adequate, equitable, and sustainable public funding for public education.

Now that would truly be in the best interest of us all — including our beloved arts organizations.

3 thoughts on “A Role for the Arts

  1. I’d like to see that ‘fact’ sheet so I can comment on it! I’m not sure why GPAC is getting in the middle of something as a wall, rather than as a bridge. The potential to leverage our support for public education to suppor funding for the arts is clear here. Yet, instead, they choose to be defensive, pick a side that offers money, and then step on all of us future arts patrons (public school students) and current arts patrons (their parents). Perhaps they think that only privately educated students are a “sure thing” when it comes to future arts patrons?

  2. I am probably ‘gilding the lily’ but I am hoping the past week’s outrage and rally become a movement to restore arts education. If I had more faith in the PA Legilature I think the focus could be there but it voted to cut spending. Any ideas?

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