Here are two additional reasons I now add to my list of why I want the National Endowment for the Arts and other federally funded arts entities to remain healthy and grow in significance in our national budget. The two following reasons augment the established case for what the National Endowment for the Arts does to support job creation, for what it does in providing funding stimulus and project seed money, for the visible and practical realization of what we prioritize as a culture, and simply, because many of us do value art in our society over many other things we spend money on, and we desire to help fund it.
My two additional reasons are new ones that I never hear articulated, and lately, I feel threatened by these issues every time I go to a concert. The first of the two is that I don't want to start hearing the theme from ATT, T-Mobile, Verizon, or any of the corporate jingles that are most likely the next stage in the string of verbal commercials that now preface many public performances. It was refreshing to recently attend the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's performance of Elijah during the ACDA Chicago National Conference, and be treated to only the performance, and not the barrage of verbal announcements and verbal commercials I must endure in other places before concerts. I am trying to figure out how I can arrive 20 minutes late to concerts now, in order to miss the commercials and info-mercials that preface the musical performance. I am not saying these commercials would go away if government funding was all that we received, but I feel certain they are only there now due to corporate funding and other desparate attempts at paying the piper at the start of concerts. Let me quickly say for those of you, like me, that do receive corporate and private funding for our work–I have no problem with print ads, gobos with corporate logos projected on walls and curtains, commercial inserts in program books, or as I recently saw at the Met, a running commercial on the digital text/translation monitor across the seat backs before the performance.
The second reason I want government funding to continue for the arts relates to living in a democracy guided by our unique constitution, and therefore, an independent and artistic voice when I attend a concert, which is not propoganda, and which is not the intellectual property of the "parent company" or corporate owner. Although infused with cynicism, Amity Shlaes, Senior Fellow in Economic History at the Council on Foreign Relations, confirms my point in her April 11, 2011 Forbes magazine article regarding the federal funding of NPR and PBS, and the resulting use of these resources in school assignments: "NPR and PBS have been vetted by the federal government and are therefore rated as 'nonoffensive'." When she says "nonoffensive", she is including "non-biased". When we see the product placement that takes place in movies, or the political spin placed on the news by networks, am I paranoid in thinking that corporate interests could appear in the programming of our performing ensembles if there is copyright interest at play? On the contrary, I think it is naive to think that it would NOT be a possibility and a likely next-step, particularly when I hear the announcements and commercials taking place at the start of contemporary concerts.
Let's keep it independent. Thank you, NEA, NPR, and PBS, for allowing us to program and attend concerts commercial and propaganda free. I have no complaints that my taxes are used to support these wonderful resources.
And, as a postcript reflection back on Memorial Day yesterday, I am pleased that my taxes support the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants, the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters, the U.S. Army Chorus, and the Soldier's Chorus, who, in addition to all of their other duties, sing for more memorial services than any of us could imagine. These ensembles are a national treasure, and a few of the truly professional choirs in the United States.