SCENE ONE: Courtroom l505, U.S. Courthouse, New York City. Date: Wednesday, Nov. 15, 1961.
The Cast: The House of Representatives Select Subcommitte on Education of the Committee on Education and Labor and invited speakers from the world of the performing arts.
The Subject Economic Conditions in the Performing Arts.
The chairman of the subcommittee introduces as the first to speak, "a very great and distinguished personage in the world of music, Maestro Leopold Stokowski."
Rising from a seat near the front of the room, the famous musician, walking with the aid of crutches because of a recently broken hip, moves slowly to the space directly in front of the members of the committee. But when the chairman says considerately, "You may be seated if you like," the silver-haired conductor, who was five months from his 80th birthday, replies firmly, "It is easier for me to stand at present." And for the next 25 minutes Stokowski speaks with vigor and clear perception about the economic hazards facing the arts and artists in the United States.
His observations were based on a career that saw him for four years organist and choirmaster of St. Bartholomew's Church in New York City, for three years conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony, and for 24 years conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the orchestra he raised to world rank and renown. He was also speaking as conductor at both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera as well as one of the most widely recorded conductors in history.
During his remarks, Stokowski said, "We have great cities -- New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, etc. -- where there are good artistic institutions, but there are vast spaces in this country where people are living far from such instations. Those are the grass roots. We must find a way to go to them and give them live performances."
SCENE TWO: Spokane, Wash., Feb. 8, 1981. A concert by the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, including the world premiere of "Praise!" by Wendal Jones. "Praise!" is described by the composer as "a dramatic composition for orchestra, chorus and tenor soloist."
A page in the program book carries an impressive list of concert sponsors and "recent grants to the Spokane Symphony." These are thanks to the Washington Trust Bank, for special support from the Washington State Cultural Enrichment Program and its "funding for the Spokane Concert Orchestra and four instrumental ensembles for school concerts in Spokane and eastern Washington." Thanks to the National Endowment for the Arts for "funding for residencies and regional family concerts in Washington, Idaho and Mountana; funding for the Sunday matinee subscription series in the Spokane Opera House."
Thanks also to the Spokane Sports, Entertainment and Arts Foundation for "Underwriting for Spokane Symphony Society Production in 1980." And to the Washington State Arts Commission, "for support for the Concert Orchestra touring program in Washington state." And to the Spokane Arts Foundation, Spokane Arts Commission and Musicians Performance Trust Fund "for enabling the appearance of the Spokane Concert Orchestra in free performances in neighborhood parks in August and September 1980."
There in eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana is exactly what Leopold Stokowski was talking about when he said, "There are vast spaces in this country where people are living far from such institutions. Those are the grass roots. We must find a way to go to them and give them performances."
SCENE THREE: A party following that Sunday afternoon concert.
Cast: All the people you usually see at a party like that: the composer of the new music; the conductor of the orchestra and the conductor of the chorus; the soloist, the officers and friends of the orchestra. Mrs.William Fix, president of the Spokane Symphony Board of Trustees, is talking:
"We have worked too long and too hard and have sweat too much blood and too many tears to get where we are today to see cuts coming in the arts. And if they cut the budget of the National Endowment of the Arts it could be the first step toward cutting the state's arts budget and the regional programs and the city's arts foundation funds. And there is no way that private contributions and corporate support would make up that difference."
Mrs. Fix is no inexperienced newcomer to the arts. Her father was Eric Johnston, American diplomat and president of the Motion Picture Association of America here in Washington where Harriet Johnson spent a number of years close to the developing arts scene.
At this point you might object, to say that the only cut thus far proposed has been President Reagen's request for a cut of 50 percent in the budjet of the National Endowment for the Arts. But certain facts are relevant: What was the rate of growth in private support prior to the establishment of the NEA? What has that rate been during the Endowment's 15 years? And what indication is there about private corporate support in the immediate future if the NEA budget were cut by half? Under the budget for fiscal 1981, the NEA has $16.2 million earmarked for music. Half of that, obviously, is just over $8 million. At conservative estimate, grants by the Endowment stimulate private giving at the rate of around $4 for each NEA dollar. This means, then, that a cut of $8 million from NEA music funds would, because of the catalytic strength of NEA grants, well mean a loss of $32 million.
According to the American Association of Fund-Raising Councils, philanthropic contributions in the 10 years prior to the founding of the NEA rose from $199 million dollars to $205 million, a negligible percentage in a decade. In the 15 years of the Endowment's existence, corporate support has grown to around $3 billion, an increase of 15 times in the 15 years.
But today not only is there no indication that corporate support will continue if NEA funds are cut, but there already are hints that, as Mrs. Fix suggest, corporate giving will be cut in similar ways. Much of why they contribute now is in response to the stimulus of governmental matching grants. There also have been disturbing reports that corporate boards of directors are saying they will support the administration and will not protest cuts in arts budgets. It can even be wondered if they would move to make them up.
Scene four: College Station, Texas, the home of Texas A&M University, aka the home of the Texas Aggies and lately the Maggies. On Jan. 29-31 representatives from all over the state of the Texas State Arts Council spent long hours exchanging information and raising questions and answers concerning aspects of the arts world today. Several times during those days Jane Wolfe, a member of the board of directors of the Texas Assembly of Arts Councils was saying the same things that Harriet Fix would be saying 10 days later in Spokane.
Jane Wolfe knows about big-time opera and symphony activites in Houston and Dallas and Fort Worth and San Antonio. She also knows how many Texans live in "vast spaces far from such institutions." Jane Wolfe and Harriet Fix represent thousands of people who are deeply committed to and concerned about the arts in this country -- today and for the future. They are the people who have prodded legislatures and committees and regional boards and councils to authorize a little more, to subsidize a new venture, to let a few thousand more people hear the kinds of live performances of which Stokowski spoke.
Wolfe and Fix know that if support is cut at the top, the cuts will be reflected, duplicated and inflicted at state, regional and local levels. Both women said, "They are talking about such miniscule amounts when you look at the total budgets involved!"
SCENE FIVE: Detroit, Mich., home of Michigan Opera Theater, often called MOT. General Director David DiChiere explains to his board: "The cuts in our state support through the Michigan Council for the Arts makes it impossible for MOT to mount a full tour outside the Detroit area this year, which is disappointing to us and to the dozen communities on both peninsulas who had applied to be included this year. I am hoping that next year's budget will allow us to restore the full Opera-in-Residence tour."
Obviously some programs already have been cut because of rising costs and the omnipresent inflation. Further cuts will mean the death of programs that have been carefully and painfully nurtured over the years.
This country has c ome a long way since that November day in 1961 when Stokowski talked to the subcommittee in New York City. Stokowski, living until the fall of 1977, saw much of the progress that was accomplised in the arts in the United States in the years during which the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts rose from around $2 million to its present figure of more than $150 million.
In thinking about that growth in funding for the arts in this country, it is interesting to remember that in Austria, the instant World War II came to an end, the people of Vienna had to have music, even when they listened to is in freezing cold halls and on empty stomachs. Anyone who was in Vienna in those days can tell you stories about how people from all over the city flocked to hear Beethoven and Mozart performed by artists who played and sang for their own morale as much as for that of those who heard them. Can music be a necessity in Vienna but not in Spokane?
And finally, go and read the words of John F. Kennedy carved on the west wall of the Kennedy Center. They speak of importance of the arts in this country in the long view of history. "The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose -- and is a test of the quality of a nation's civilization."