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SAVE New Jersey ARTS - 4

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  • Peter Murphy
    Below is an eloquent and moving letter written by John Pietrowski, Artistic Director of Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey. It appeared in the NY Times on
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 12, 2003
      Below is an eloquent and moving letter written by John
      Pietrowski, Artistic Director of Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey.
      It appeared in the NY Times on Tuesday, February 25, 2003.

      Your letters or emails need no
      t
      be so long or detailed, but please do something. The arts we sa
      ve may be our own.

      ***

      PICTURES AT A FRIGHTENING EXHIBITION

      Not soon after Governor McGreevey announced the demise of
      the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, I received this e-mail
      from a patron: "Amid a World War II budget crisis, one of Winston
      Churchill's advisers urged him to shut down all the theaters,
      concert halls, and art galleries in London in the interest of the
      war effort. `Good God, man,' the English prime minister is said
      to have replied, `What the hell are we fighting for?'"

      And so last week we are told by McGreevey spokeswoman Ellen
      Mellody the state is facing the worst budget crisis since WWII,
      and as far as the arts and culture are concerned, it has come
      down to "food on the table" or "hanging a picture on the wall."

      Go ahead, make your comparisons. One almost need not say
      more. But, in the face of a naive comment like Ms. Mellody's, one
      must, and you'll have to excuse the tortuous phrasing here, but
      what isn't "on the table" here is not food. What is not on the table
      in New Jersey is what was on the table in London: visionary
      leadership.

      Since when is art just a "picture on the wall?" Since when is it
      dispensable? At least not since Churchill made that comment.
      This may be an unfortunate misquote on Ms. Mellody's part, but
      taken with McGreevey's choice to set the cultural allocation at
      zero (and not at some sensible reduction), a pattern emerges
      that defines his understanding of art. The apparent definition is:
      art is a static passive affair, created by a chosen few to be
      enjoyed from afar. Highbrow entertainment easily cast aside in
      hard times. It is reverse snobbery manufacturing a working
      class point of view that the working class does not hold. Why
      else for him would art boil down to a "picture on a wall?" Nothing
      could be more incorrect.

      The arts in New Jersey have long since passed the static
      passive phase, if they ever were there. Because of the
      commitment of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, on any
      given day, literally thousands of children in schools across the
      state participate in hands-on creative activities with professional
      artists who are devoted to connecting them to their creativity in a
      real way. They write, they draw, they sculpt and they perform. In
      the evenings, both adults and children actively pursue creative
      lives, whether they are professional or "amateur." Much focus
      has been placed on the travails of the big cultural institutions,
      but County Arts Councils regrant a large portion of state funding
      for local community-based arts organizations. Thousands of
      people make art at these places. They could not survive without
      it.

      These people are not idly passing time. They are in pursuit of an
      essential human need, which is to change the world in some
      small way through the exercise of their imagination. Take this
      away and you take away the foundation for progress in science,
      technology, education, government, and any other field you care
      to mention. As physicists like Albert Einstein and Richard
      Feynman have proven time and again, all great change starts
      with a new model, and new models start with imaginative work.
      The rest follows from that. The arts are the gateway to this world.

      The arts are not frivolous, they are essential to our survival. They
      are the "food on the table" of our future. If you do the math, it
      costs so little per capita to keep the foresight and the expertise
      of NJSCA and its grant making activities intact, and the benefits
      are so great (above and beyond the one billion dollars the arts
      pumps into the economy annually), that unless one has ulterior
      motives for its demise, it is economic suicide not to insure its
      continued existence. The alternative, arts funding by line item in
      the budget, does not work; only the well-connected will get
      money (and that's where this will all go, and as much, if not
      more, money will be spent). Nor does funding directly from the
      governor's office work, it only politicizes the process in
      unimaginable ways. NJSCA is doing an exemplary job, it is the
      envy of the nation, it should be allowed its enviable status.

      Governor McGreevey seems to have gone off track here. When
      he told the citizens of this state he wanted to be the next "Arts
      Governor," we were convinced he was a visionary leader. We
      applauded his foresight. Now he just appears frightened. In hard
      times, we can't go hiding in some concrete bunker and expect to
      thrive. It is a defensive and fearful posture. We must feed our
      souls and move forward, and that is the role of the arts in good
      times and bad.

      The governor should restore the NJSCA, and if he must, with a
      cut that is fair and equal to cuts he has made in other areas. His
      bravery will be admired, his leadership again applauded. He will
      be giving the state more than a "table of food," it will be the gift of
      a magnificent banquet that more than pays for itself. Only
      creative thought will get us out of our current malaise. We have
      no choice but to make that commitment.


      JOHN PIETROWSKI
      Artistic Director
      Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey
      973.514.1787 ext 11
      862.812.2036 cel
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