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Thinking out loud

I am no stranger to strong emotions. I suppose having the exposed outlet of a gigantic stage with blaring lights and a wailing orchestra every so often temporarily soothes my savage beast. “It’s the best form of therapy”, you’ll hear numerous singers declare. Great truth lies in that statement. But every so often, I lack the appropriate outlet for my heated emotions that could easily be considered (shudder) “controversial”. We’re taught to avoid such hullabaloo, and generally I obediently abide.

But then this happened:

“Republican Gov. Sam Brownback took the major step of privatizing the arts in Kansas, turning back the clock to a pre-1960s era. The governor erased state funding for arts programs, leaving the Kansas Arts Commission with no budget, no staff and no offices.”

Gov. Sam Brownback

Yep. One slash of the pen, and every single penny for the Arts in the State of Kansas is gone. (Mind you, this also magically slashes all the matching Federal Funds that vanish instantaneously with that bold stroke.)

Now, that’s not some erroneous state carefully smashed into the buckle of the Bible Belt, mind you ~ it’s my home state. You know, that Sunny Sunflower State which I have proudly touted and bragged upon across the world, defending even in the face of harsh quizzical looks from the most skeptical of folks (“You live WHERE?”) Yep. That one. The state of my first piano recital and choir concert, the home field of my artistic curiosity and education, the homeland which taught me to dream big and without limitation. Yep. That one.

But please don’t ask me explain this one. For the first time, I’m at a complete and utter loss to bring clarity or understanding to this, as I see it, horror. A horror which I fear is sadly only a microcosm of bigger things at play. And I’m an optimist, remember? I try desperately to keep alarm at bay. This monster, however, just may get the better of me.

I have officially turned on my internal editor to be sure that any expletives that are BEGGING to be unleashed in this posting are duly deleted, and I can only say that this ignorant, short-sighted, fearful, and unspeakably damaging gesture by a rogue political figure acting WITHOUT the majority consent of his legislature, voted in by many people carrying, it pains me to say, those same shameful qualities, is so very deeply and profoundly wrong.

But that kind of argument falls on deaf ears, I know – and will lead me into a nasty minefield of political machinations which I’ve tried to swear off of this page and, in all honesty, has no real place here. I’m not a politician, nor historian, nor intellectually equipped to go head-to-head with the fearful naysayers. I’m just a humble singer who prefers to spend energy on music. I’m just a home-grown product of an agricultural state which used to value the arts, like all great societies and cultures of the past. My imagination rivals a good ol’ Kansas Category 5 tornado’s destructive force when I begin to think of where I’d be without an education fueled by the arts that informed my way of thinking outside the box, without a community theater or choir or art exhibit that gave me true solace and an emergency exit from some of the great crises in my life, not to mention the outlet of participating in an expressive activity which helped me understand myself and the mystery of life a little better. But hey, what merit is there in that? Ya can’t TEST it. Ya can’t put a VALUE on it. Must not count for nothin’ much.

And yet, if I don’t argue it? I’ll fall into line with those people that shrug their shoulders and say, “But what difference will it make?” I attest that it could make a WORLD of difference. But, then again, I’m naive.  Or maybe I’m only fueling the fire and making the situation worse by calling the “other side” out? Are we doomed to polarization and stalemates forever? Is there no middle ground anymore?

Mr. Alex Aldrich

Ah, so maybe it’s better to argue on financial terms, since that seems to be the only thing of value in our times?  I’ll leave that to the brilliant essay by one Alex Aldrich, the very man the Governor used as an example of why this cut was “good”.  Mr. Aldrich argues:

“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, every State SHOULD invest in the arts sector simply because it makes good economic sense.  One of our most conservative policy analysts looked at state and local tax revenues that flowed to state and municipal coffers from our very narrowly-defined arts sector in Vermont.  Income taxes paid by artists, arts administrators and independent arts contractors, as well as the long-established IMPLAN economic modeling analysis on just the nonprofit arts institutions in the state, reveal a total return of $19.45 million on a combined investment of $2.5 million, which includes our $500k appropriation.  This annual ROI of 775% is even more astonishing since virtually all of Vermont’s state tourism dollars promote skiing, outdoor recreation, fall foliage, maple syrup, and artisanal food preparation and service, NOT art and culture—a circumstance which, I am happy to say, is going to change starting this summer.”

So leaving aside any cultural, artistic arguement, it is simply bad business.  But ya know, how can you put a value on children learning things that we don’t want them to learn? Nope, gotta reign in all of that nonsense in.  OK.  I’ll stop.

Performing Arts Center of Kansas City, Opening Fall 2011

So how can I possibly put a “Joyce-Spin” on this? Where’s the silver lining?  In addition to people like Alex Aldrich stepping up to the plate, my OTHER State, the grand Show-Me-State of Missouri (Kansas City is split in two with the State Line of Kansas and Missouri careening through its center) is about to put itself onto the map, once again, with a bold, valiant, brazen new venture about to open this fall.  Yes, the entire cost of the construction is privately funded (way to go, citizens of KC!), BUT it will house three nationally recognized organizations which ALL receive state and national funding and contribute mightily to the local economy.  Two completely different approaches to the value (I won’t even bring up “necessity”) of culture. Guess which one gets my vote?

In a not-entirely related segue, I just need to keep going back to the things that make sense to me when the world seems to have spun off its access, and this video absolutely does the trick:

So there we have it. Long-winded, emotionally charged, perhaps in over my head. But not silent. Nope, not that.

PS: This letter perhaps makes the argument much better than I can.

PPS: Contact the Governor and add your voice to the chorus, should you feel so compelled

34 Comments

  1. Marguerite Foxon said…

    Joyce – You must speak out. You have more of a voice to be heard than many of us who feel passionately about the arts and are in anguish over these cuts. thanks for not just remaining quiet. M

  2. Calum said…

    Joyce, I was so upset when I read your tweet on this subject a little while ago. What is the point of even being alive, I thought, if we do not have music? You’ve expressed what I think much better than I could. Here in the UK we face cutbacks to all government departments, but ELIMINATION of arts funding? That is tragedy.

    We need to make a stand. If the arts go, so does civilisation. The joy I and many others experience from your singing proves that. I hope for the best.

  3. Christopher Howell said…

    BEST blog posting yet! I won’t say you should have been a writer but you have a tremendous talent in that field as well. Once you whip Kansas into shape please come and do the same on the Hill! Your voice may turn out to matter more than just on the operatic stage (and Yankee Diva, of course!)….and congrats on the ARIODANTE release. I’m guessing Mr. Brownback has not had the opportunity/pleasure to listen and discover what incredible talent his great state can produce with some nurturing and exposure.

  4. Betty Wytias said…

    Joyce! I am stunned, shocked, horrified — actually speechless. Can this be reversed this year or do you have to wait for another legislative session? How long will Mr. Governor be in that position? I hope that this has caused a SUNAMI of cacophonous outrage!

    Yes. Your guy on the youtube was near perfect. The arts develop one’s heart. But also restores dignity to each individual soul. Thank you! Brava.

    p.s. I am John Nelson’s friend and am married to Robert Sobel, who helps John with his Soli Deo Gloria recordings. You met me first at the Notre Dame recording of the B minor Mass.

  5. Kristin said…

    Beautifully stated, Joyce.

    And beyond the tax income, I have simply never been able to see why people don’t realize that the arts boost the economy and create jobs (other jobs…not just those of the artists or artistic administrators). If you have to quantify it, funding for the arts is an investment in the economy. Let’s say someone decides to go to an opera (or ballet, play, orchestra concert, recital, etc). That person (and often two or more) will have to get there. At the very least, it’s a metrocard and more often than not, there’s the gas needed to drive there. And then who just goes to a performance? Most folks go to dinner beforehand and/or get a drink or dessert afterwards. Maybe there was a drink at intermission too. So, that’s gas station attendants, maybe a parking attendant, restaurant service staff, all sorts of theater staff (not just the artists, backstage folks, ushers, etc.), and on and on. Someone patronizes MORE businesses and boosts more jobs by going to see a performance that might not have happened without government grant money (which we all know, makes up just a little portion of an organization’s general operating support in the US).

    But aside from that, you broach another interesting point as well. I found this article (“We need new beans to count”) this week that you might enjoy (or it should at least provide even more fodder): http://www.artsjournal.com/newbeans/2011/04/we-need-new-beans-to-count.html

  6. Lisa said…

    Well said! And while you think that this type of post has no place here, I think that this is an excellent place for it. The thought process that results in things like the arts being cut in a state or in a school is BAFFLING. What sort of people do not see the inherent value in the arts? (people with no soul, is my guess..)

  7. Carole Mehl said…

    I have taught music all my professional life and I KNOW what music and the fine and performing arts mean in the lives of people in general, but children and youths very specifically. I could be the Pied Piper and lead the children to one of the great beauties of life. Dear God: Show these people that music is a civilizing influence. Amen

  8. Mary said…

    Dear Joyce,
    I share your pain. I look at my own life, am know the influence on my life. I enjoyed the orchestra in elementary school and continued with the orchestra through graduate school. My life and my families’ life has been so enriched by folks like you. Know that I am in this fight with you till the final outcome. I applaud your courage to speak on this issue. Not at all dry, but the grist of life.
    Love and prayer,
    Mary

  9. Charlie said…

    Dear Joyce,

    Such furore needs another album with C.Rousset to express itself ;)
    I’m quite surprised by that decision that I didn’t think was possible in our time – despite all the crisis effects – and in one of our countries. It quite matches the clichés about rep politics that we have in France, that only you can (or could) wipe away by being so proud of your state!
    I can only hope it will be overruled quickly and not spread around the US, if not further.
    Thank you for your insight, and btw a HUGE thank you for your Ariodante in Paris, although you could quite feel we were a thankfull audience! Please keep up the enthousiasm and this lovely smile of yours besides all these depressing news.

    All the best,

    Charlie

  10. Annie said…

    You are correct. This is a horror. How is it possible to have one person just be able to wipe out all that funding, all that art and music and dance, and have others just be fine with it??? However, as I sit here typing this, I am thinking of my own little charges in Harlem, and how, even when they do not always get what they need, they find it or make it or create it for themselves. I think that it is impossible to squelch creativity, and that all the musicians, singers, dancers and artists will not be kept down. Art will always prevail. As you said, all the civilized cultures in the world have been foundations for the Arts, and will continue to be.
    I thin the bigger concern is that the man who could just sign it all away must not have had art in his life in any way, or he could never have done it. People rarely get rid of the thing that feeds them, and art in some form can feed anyone!! How can one grow up with no love for music or painting or dancing? It is a scary thought indeed.

    Thank you for speaking up.

    annie

  11. Annie said…

    And, speaking of the arts, and how they can sum up perfectly what is going on in ones minds…

    To be or not to be that is the question.
    Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them?

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks Will!

    annie

  12. Robert said…

    Thank you Joyce. I just sent your blog and the letter from Laura to Mr. Brownback. I hope he gets inundated with them!

  13. Jennifer said…

    In Houston, I live in a nice suburb that is sending a 3rd grade reading teacher into the music room because of budget cuts. Although the state still requires a minimum of 45 minutes of music instruction per week, schools and districts are allowed to count listening to music while writing or learning a song to memorize the 50 states as music instruction. I have started volunteering in my son’s school to ensure that his class is receiving a music education that goes beyond rote memory. As a musician at HGO, I have the luxury to enrich my sons’ education.

    When parents stand up and say this is unacceptable, and adults without children stop saying it doesn’t concern me, and grandparents begin to advocate the future generation’s necessity to excel in all areas is when our budget-slashers will leave our children and arts programs alone.

    • artandhockey said…

      “A life without song is a life lost!”
      Parents really must get deeper involved with their kids’ education in all the arts!

  14. Dan Filson said…

    I just love it when someone says “I have an opinion, I hold it strongly, and I WILL B HEARD!”

    Democracy requires people to speak up.

  15. Anna O said…

    Dear Joyce,
    You are right to speak up on this issue and thank you very much for doing so. I can see why this is particularly devastating for you, because in a situation like this, it’s being the optimist that is more difficult, since the pessimist would expect no better in the first place. I agree with Christopher: this governor can’t have heard your Ariodante! Maybe we should send him a copy?
    Thanks for all you do, Joyce.
    best,
    Anna

  16. Jean-Pierre said…

    I am not american but this problem is everywhere. What you say is correct. Art and music simply make people better. Politicians rarely understand the indirect effects of culture.

  17. Windsor Thomas said…

    What an utterly ignorant thing for any politician, anywhere to do! One need not merely hope but can surely forecast that the State of Kansas will one day in the future meet out just retribution. Even we folk in the “old country” are having to suffer cuts of all kinds, but we are not yet seeking to annihilate the arts!

  18. Orfeo2k said…

    Art is a signature of civilisation (famously said by Beverly Sills) …. This is how they cannibalise young inquisitive and growing minds… This is indeed tragic… Art is expensive investment but it pays dividend long terms! It keeps children off the street and from socialpathic behaviours. It helps them grow and helps them to become more humanistic… It comes in full circle, as the society will harvest the reward in years to come!!! Indeed tragic and shortsighted!!! I can feel the pain just as intensely in Toronto Canada as you feel it from your home state :( at least in Toronto we realised it makes economical sense to invest in arts in order to bring in business … What is Kansas thinking!?

  19. Diny Tecker said…

    Dear marvelous singer and thinker,
    Like so many politicians nowadays around he world also Gov. Sam B. is apparently a stranger to emotions. Poor guy, who isn’t even aware of the harm he will inflict on real and sensitive people. You took the time to explain to him and all those who are similarly blind- and thought-folded that ART is not a commodity that you can or should debase nor deleate from (probably his term) the ‘market’.
    Let us confront all of them with Thomas More’s saying: “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire”.
    A wise English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and Renaissance humanist (1478-1535).
    Like you, we will keep focused on music!
    Hear and see you, Ariodante, in Amsterdam.

  20. Tom Moody said…

    Thought I’d share something I wrote off the cuff on Facebook after re-posting Ms. Didonato’s blog regarding music education on my page.

    “I have never been able to understand (and probably never will) why a government doesn’t have some responsibility in seeing that its children are well educated. It flies against reason! We already are seeing that poor education costs this country much prestige. We’ve fallen behind many other countries in regards to academics and we’ll continue to fall behind as long as this sort of “non-thinking” continues! While i have never studied the sales of classical music CDs, concert, etc. etc., I know that this country falls far behind support of the fine arts. Almost all of the classical CDs in this country originate from Europe or Japan. Its obvious that the people of those countries currently have a far superior reach and understanding of classical music – and of jazz as well – one of America’s own art forms!! It speaks volumes when perhaps the leading coloratura soprano of our generation, Edita Gruberova, has not appeared in this country since the mid-80s. She still performs to sell out audiences in Europe and Japan even as she’s now over 60!! It would appear obvious that at some point Gruberova decided that performing for US audiences wasn’t worth her time or effort. Our loss, not hers – especially as she’s a performer I COULD have heard live, but didn’t get a chance to! Anyway, no excuse for a state or country to lose its grip on educating its young!”

    • artandhockey said…

      Hear Hear!
      As an Austrian born mumble years ago, I grew up with music at home via radio (very short airtime then) and live opera, theater, concerts! Later records, tapes (those old kinds- shlepping around a ton of Grundig player LOL)
      I so agree with all you spoke of, just want to add one more thing-experiencing any LIVE performance is so unique. Raising kids without that we rob them of beauty and joy!

  21. Maude Larke said…

    That Brownback is a throwback. I think that you should “renounce your citizenship” of Kansas. Yes, it can only be a symbolic gesture, as individual states don’t control citizenship, but it might wake up Brownbrain. KS’s biggest “export product” leaving KS? The foundations will shudder! And when is he up for jettisoning from his office?

  22. Mark Thomas Ketterson said…

    Bill Madison just directed me to your blog. The whole thing is appalling. Where is our cultural compass, let alone our moral one? I am saddened beyond belief.

  23. Stanley Murashige said…

    Such sheer idiocy, ignorance, and short-sightedness, and how sad! If ever the arts were needed…well, now more than ever. I once heard Eric Leindsdorf refer to the arts as “entertainment,” but not in the usual sense, but rather in the sense of “to hold between,” “to engage.” The arts can teach that most necessary, and yet ineffable of things–wisdom. It’s through the arts that we differentiate ourselves from the animal world, that we become truly human, though sometimes I begin to think, animals are more civilized than we are.
    (I ordered my copy of Ariodante last week!)

  24. Stefano said…

    BRAVA Joycina! I DO hope that as a maximum example of what Kansas can produce for the ART in yr State, in this Country and in the whole world, your voice will be heard from this…man!
    (I have better words for him in Italian, but I try to be decent in yr blog, even if he doesn’t deserve it.)

  25. John Kenneth Adams said…

    Well done, Joyce. We are facing this threat here in South Carolina, which by the way, is the birthplace of National Public Radio and TV, where all the pilot programs were develeoped for educational programs for the schools. There was booing at the Governor’s Inauguration Speech when she (Nicki Haley) said this was high on her list of things to do away with. So far, we have held our ground, but it takes daily attention. Kansas City has always had enlightened wealthy patrons…William Rockhill Nelson among the greatest, and so today they have a tradition of public love and respect for the arts. I am writing my letter today, as I hope many thousands will also do. Where There is No Vision, the People Perish! My best to you…and I tip my hat!

  26. Sibyl said…

    Shout away, Joyce. Cuss, even. Those of us who follow you love your voice in every sense of that word. I would make a joke about what a travesty this is, but this is no joking matter. Humans have found art and the creation of art necessary since humans became human (cave paintings, anyone?). There can be life without art, but who, besides this guy, would call that living? Was he humiliated in an art class once or something?

  27. marcillac said…

    Hmm. Well, the one thing we can be pretty sure of is that there are few jurisdictions anywhere in the world which will solve their considerable budgetary difficulties by cutting arts funding, “foreign aid” or “waste, fraud and abuse”. Certainly the portion of the Kansas budget devoted to the arts was sufficiently trivial that its omission from scheduled cuts would hardly have effected the state’s fiscal posture in a substantial way.

    That said, and as noted above, the issue is not limited to conservative American states with very conservative governments. Germany is probably the large world economy that has weathered the recent economic travails best. Bavaria is one of the richest states in Germany and has for over half a millenium been known for its lavish arts funding, and this often under the most conservative of governments. This lavishness is reflected in the (relatively) low prices at the Bavarian State Opera and concert venues in Munich where the ticket prices even in the context of a worthless dollar (I’M TALKING TO YOU MESSEIURS GREENSPAN/BERNANKE/BUSH/OBAMA) is quite a bit less expensive than in the U.S. even as the performers are better paid – which, of course helps to attract the very best of them. And yet, rumour has it that even in Bavaria arts funding maybe on a bit of a chopping block (what).

    In any case this has not prevented the scheduling of an excellent Munich season featuring even our very own dear Hostess. As I will be spending some time in those climes next year I eagerly look forward to hearing her in Cenerantolla.

    Finally, just to cause a bit of trouble, it is worth recalling that Stalin and most especially Hitler generously funded the arts and in the case of the latter were known for their rather extravagant enthusiasm.

  28. Chris said…

    This is just part of the craziness that has been brewing on the Right in the USA over the past ten years or so. The US may come to its senses when these policies crash into reality, but it will take some time before this happens. What is particularly bizarre is that a Koch supported group is behind these cuts when Koch presents himself as a patron of the arts with (do I recall correctly?) a theater named after him in Lincoln Center, NYC.

  29. pen and paper said…

    I tend not to leave a response, however after reading a great deal of remarks on Thinking
    out loud – Joyce DiDonato. I actually do have 2 questions for
    you if it’s allright. Could it be just me or do a few of the comments appear like they are written by brain dead individuals? :-P And, if you are writing at additional online sites, I would like to follow everything new you have to post. Could you post a list of all of all your social networking pages like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

    • Yankeediva said…

      Dear Pen & Paper, Can’t really speak to the state of mind of all commentators, but all of my social networks are listed on my website: facebook & twitter, primarily! Thank you for following along!

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As an artist, you will never arrive at a fixed destination. THIS is the glory and the reward of striving to master your craft and embarking on the path of curiosity and imagination, while being tireless in your pursuit of something greater than yourself.

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