NEA Gives Montclair Big Wet Kiss

Good news for art-loving Montclair. Through its American Masterpieces initiative, The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is awarding $220,000 in federal funds to Montclair State University and the Montclair Art Museum.
The breakdown:

* $70,000 to Montclair State University for the re-enactment of The Mysteries and What’s So Funny? by David Gordon, Red Grooms and Philip Glass; and
* $150,000 to the Montclair Art Museum to support the touring exhibition Cezanne and American Modernism, and the catalogue and education program to accompany it.

Hat tip to PolitickerNJ, quoting the announcement of the news by Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.

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39 COMMENTS

  1. Great news? This is pork, plain and simple.
    I, for one, see nothing great about it. That money, those “federal funds” didn’t just appear from thin air. Someone first earned it, then it was confiscated by the government, allocated, appropriated and awarded. And each step represented added cost, and skimming off the top. In fact, the 220,000 USD represents what was left over after all that.
    Something to keep in mind next Tuesday, the day Senator Lautenberg runs in the Democratic primary election.

  2. (This is right up there with polls that show most folks think their own congressman/senator is great, but then gives low marks to the congress as a whole.)
    We hate pork. Unless, of course, the pork comes our way. In that case I say give me the butt and ribs and I’ll smoke ’em.

  3. One might plausibly suggest that $150,000 to a local, smallish art museum for “support” of a touring art exhibit (what the devil does that mean?) and a catalogue might be better applied elsewhere.
    Also, aren’t catalogues usually sold? Shouldn’t this one thus be a self-supporting entity? If the catalogue earns back its production costs, would the Montclair Art Museum then consider returning the $150,000? Or at least that portion directly applied to getting the catalogue out?
    (It is indeed, Liz, or anyway so I suspect, a slow news quarter.)

  4. Nice to see there’s so much support for art around here. Let’s just get rid of the NEA and public television and all those other “leftie” programs that keep music and art alive here and then we can truly become a society in which we can take great pride.

  5. Dear Old Faithful, I love art as much as the next guy, as I’m sure you appreciate, but do we really want our art to be sponsored by the state?

  6. Without gov support music and art will die?
    Is this a defense of pork?
    Without the “re-enactment of The Mysteries and What’s So Funny?” all theater ends?
    I guess the kids in a nearby garage banging away on guitars and drums will stop.
    Or the kid making beats and rapping.
    Seriously, it is possible to be against pork, but love music and art.
    (And without this support, I suppose the NY Public Library and Lincoln Center will cease to exist.)
    That said, with a budget as large as the US’, 1 million is nothing. So, PLAY ON PLAYAS!!

  7. By the way. The headline says “Wet Kiss” and the byline says “Liz George.” Coincidence?

  8. Jerseygurl,
    There are certainly lots of ways to support local culture and the arts without involving taxpayer monies. For instance, one of the greatest cultural meccas in the entire metropolitan area is just a few miles down the road, and it subsists entirely without government support: check it out here

  9. Complainerpuss – hilarious. Exactly what I mean. Not to mention it’s across Rt. 3 from that other cultural mecca to be, Xanadu.

  10. Let’s consider how one can express “support for the arts.”
    One way is to take what one has earned and donate to a worthy cause, art-related or otherwise. To do this, one first has to earn the money, and then decide its best use, presumably after considering one’s own need for food, shelter, education, providing for one’s family, etc.
    Another way to express support for the arts is to gush and cheer when the government doles out taxpayer money to fund touring exhibitions and reenactments, and pictures of crucifixes in bottles of urine and bullwhips inserted into cavities, but not, one supposes, cartoons of Allah.
    “Support for the arts” does not have to begin and end with government funding for the arts.

  11. Well using the Mitty argument I suppose I should stop paying the portion of my taxes that goes to the schools since I have no children. The government funds all sorts of things to which I am opposed that cost far more than the pittance that goes to the arts. Seems we could use a lot more creative thinking all around these days.

  12. I forgot another way to support the arts:
    Wax indignant whenever anyone dares suggest that some things are not legitimate functions of government.
    Jerseygirl, please don’t use my argument to stop paying your taxes. I never suggested that. It’s illegal. If you do it, the government can put you in jail. That’s a power to be reckoned with.
    Neither should you use my argument to reach a moral equivalence among anything and everything that anyone anywhere has ever objected to government spending money on. But you should consider priorities, and that a literate, educated population is of greater value to society than government-sanctioned works of art.
    You consider a quarter of million dollars a pittance? Congratulations, and more so, since you have no children to spend it on. To most of us, it’s real money, and we would like to see it regarded as such.

  13. jerseygurl, one argument of the most intransigent of libertarians is in fact that, since they have no children in the school system, they shouldn’t be paying school taxes. (It’s also why areas heavy in senior citizens and gays often vote down school budgets.)
    Far more people, however, have children in local public schools than will likely attend either of these two art projects and exhibitions. Oh, I realize you’ll probably do so (provided it doesn’t conflict with your sailing schedule), but maybe not too many others. So tell me, have you considered volunteering to get out the word about these two? Why then, with your efforts and that of a few apparently equally outraged others, there might not even be a reason to spend that assigned sum of $150,000. You could even print the catalogue yourself off your home laser printer and hand-staple it.
    As for $150,000 to the Montclair Museum and even $70,000 to Montclair State, these are not “pittances.” Well, perhaps in your expansive, Burberry-checked world they are, but nowhere else.

  14. Or jersey, you could choose to live in a community that has no schools.
    Remember, school funding is a local issue.
    The point here is that “art” exists without the government. Moreover, looking over the list, it seems that many large, well funded organizations got money.
    I’d rather see my $ go to smaller organizations that can use it.
    Regardless, if they got rid of it tomorrow, our taxes would be the same– so who cares.

  15. Mr. Mitty, as you yourself say, a “literate, educated population” is of great value to society. That is why I fully support the idea of public education. I choose to live in Montclair and choose to pay into the unique school system here. Art is an important part of the learning process. There are many schools and many communities that do not have the funding necessary to support music, painting, poetry, etc. so yes, having a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of our national budget allocated to the NEA indeed contributes to having an educated society.

  16. Cathar – 70k and 150k are indeed significant amounts of money to the average individual but divided by the entire tax paying population of the country it is quite a small amount. You’ve also got me wrong on my efforts on behalf of the community and my clothing choices, I work far too hard for my money to waste it on Burberry and Prada. I’d rather give the money to charity.

  17. I don’t see why the government needs to get involved in the arts. They do SUCH a great job at everything else they get their mitts on./snark.
    Do you really want Big Brother involved with decisions on what art to install/portray in our museums? Kinda reminds me of when former Mayor Giuliani got his nose all out of joint about a painting at the Brooklyn Art Museum that featured elephant dung. Hey, it’s not my cup of tea, either, but the artist has every right to express himself as he sees fit.

  18. jerseygurl: I wish I could share your faith in the NEA’s ability to contribute to an educated society. It would indeed be wonderful world to live in, if they could do that.
    But what we have instead is yet another bureaucracy. I will grant you that it is not the most wasteful or most bloated and inefficient. But it is among the least justified, and its continued existence only serves to perpetuate an acceptance of ever-increasing government, one without any limits in size, scope or ability to set standards. Witness those who now cry that their inability to obtain NEA funding constitutes censorship.

  19. And don’t get me started on the “right” kind of art funded.
    Did Rock-n-Roll or Hip-hop need public funding? Both seemed to do well and contributed (I dare say) more than most other genres to our “culture”.
    As for “art” it’s usually a certain kind of art that gets (and seeks) funding.
    This may be a high/low culture argument, but I resent those that believe that “high” art is so special, it needs our help.
    That said, I’d rather see my money go to arts funding in schools vs. languages…. My 10 years of Spanish has really helped my life……. But I can’t read music…

  20. OMG – excellent news! Where are these communities without schools? Oh where? Please tell.
    Taxes must be $1,500 a YEAR~!!

  21. That’s right, Prof. If you are an artist, a musician or writer, you will beg, borrow and steal, figuratively, to express yourself. No artist worth his or her salt sits around and waits for a government handout.

  22. But, jerseygrul, these grants of $70k and $150K, respectively, are not going for the benefit of the entire nation, even if they’re being taken from the populace’s common pocketbook. They are going to a local college to remount a theatrical production that Joe Sixpack will likely never wish to see (and comparatively few more artistically attuned sorts like yourself wished to see in its original incarnation almost 20 years ago) and to a local, smallish art museum for a show which will also run in the much larger city of Baltimore and also in Albuquerque. Don’t try and duck the issue of populism here by either ignoring it entirely or by attempting to assure others of your own strong charitable impulses. (T’was not me, by the bye, who mentioned Prada….)
    I also notice that, no matter your claimed devotion to charity, you did not pick up on my suggestion that you might wish to pick up yourself some of the costs of catalogue production for the Cezanne show. I also await some reassurance, from thee or anyone else, that the catalogue, being thus subsidized, will then be free to we groundlings should we wish to actually go to this show.
    My hardest problem with this whole matter, however, is imagining g the wee sma’ Menendez and the wearisome Lautenberg actually getting together to announce this expenditure of monies. Not least because I can’t imagine notably dozy Lautenberg (go Andrews!!!) abbreviating his daily nap for any such purpose.

  23. It could be argued, jerseygurl, you minx, that government support is a bad influence on the arts. Think about it. What sort of art can be produced from a government agency whose overriding goal is to offend no one?

  24. “What sort of art can be produced from a government agency whose overriding goal is to offend no one?”
    Kind of reminds me of Socialist Realism from the Former Soviet Union.

  25. Good point, walleroo. Let’s run with it.
    And government assuming responsibility for all health care will make the quality of medical care in this country better?
    Of course not. But it will reduce inequality, albeit by making things equally miserable for everyone.

  26. Some.
    The government assumes responsibility for some housing. Is government housing where you want to live? Does government housing make other housing better?

  27. Thousands of works have been produced in this country with government sponsorship, perhaps most notably during the Depression by the WPA. One could argue all day as to all of this art is “good” (whatever that means), but government has played a role in sponsoring art for centuries. Today, most western countries lend government support to artists, varying from place to place as custom dictates. There would be no Abbey Theatre in Ireland without the government, no Royal Shakespeare in Britain, etc. Of course I agree that a true artist will not wait around for support, but will work because that is his or her passion. But he or she would be foolish not to accept some support if it were offered, so long as no strings are attached. I recall seeing Diego Rivera’s murals in Chicago and noting that the government did not, at least initially, censor some powerful themes in that work.
    As for government housing well, it may not be Upper mountain Avenue, but it is a step up from the street, or some shithole. I lived in government housing at one point in my life, and was grateful for it.

  28. Throughout history, art has been funded by royalty and religious organizations. What has made America unique is that we do not afford either of those entities any official status. Rather, we have enjoyed the freedom for anyone to prosper and endow and patronize any cause they wish. When we create government agencies to seize taxpayer money and direct it to selected beneficiaries (no matter how worthy), we sacrifice a little of that freedom and cede to government more power than it deserves.

  29. I doubt Sean O’Casey had fond memories of the “support” given him by the Abbey Theater, croiagusanam. (Synge certainly didn’t.) And England’s greatest modern playwrights, David Storey, Arnold Wesker and John Osborne, owe very little of their late 20th century success to government support of the arts. Or even to the RSC, for that matter…
    It’s a mixed bag of a story, no? The Beatles and the Stones and the Byrds and Merle Haggard and Hank Williams and the Modern Jazz Quartet and John Coltrane all never got a dime from the government, while lots of more classically oriented people whose works (particularly in modern dance) constitute instant sleepytime for most of us have taken the Queen’s shilling and the Presidential dollar. The greatest shows at the Apollo during the late 60’s cost no more then than $3.00, which only bought matinee standing room during the same period at heavily subsidized Lincoln Center.
    I’m not even terribly sure Diego Rivera’s work is all that great. CP hackwork is more my view. From a time when Thomas Hart Benton didn’t want a dime from the government and Grandma Moses painted away in upstate NY obscurity.
    And as someone who spent most of three years in “government housing,” in bases ranging from Fort Benning to Camp Evans in Nam to Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, yes, it’s a big step up from the street. But nowhere near as cozy as even the humblest domicile on Upper Mountain, and always far draftier and improperly heated and cooled.
    I hold no brief for or against the coming Cezanne show at the Montclair Art Museum, save that it’s getting a grant to produce a show catalogue which it will charge for. That does not play well. But the $70,000 to Montclair State? That just sounds like a complete waste of money for a piece of theatrical pretension; it’ll make Susan Cole and her pals feel good, but it’ll probably baffle and bore everybody sane who sees it. A perfect summation of the “support” of the arts by NJ’s pair of bozo senators, however, to be sure.

  30. cathar, O’Casey was a monumentally cranky bastard, so while talented he was nevertheless inclined to deride any aspect of what he saw as a weak government composed of idealogues and hacks. He took the shilling, nonetheless. His beef was primarily with the Irish theatre going public, a group he deemed as either hypocritical or too dense to comprehend him (he may have been right on both counts more often than not). SUNSET AND EVENING STAR gives a good accounting.
    Synge said very little about the public face of the Abbey. His all too brief life was taken up with other struggles. The point is that these works would not have come to the attention of so many, so soon were it not for the Abbey, which existed largely due to the government and of course subscriptions by horsey types like Lady Gregory and Yeats.
    If popularity is to be the measure by which we judge government support, than of course “regular” bands playing in clubs and the like will usually enjoy more popular support than a ballet company. But that should not be the measure, and it is beside the point. Ditto Rivera — whether you or I “like” him is not the issue. And while it is clever to bend “government housing” to include an Army posting, you know that that is not the type of housing being discussed here. Though truth be told, my own land postings were considerably warmer and drier than the council flats.

  31. Croiagusanam (who was obviously up as late as I was last night), my point was that government-funded “art” is quite often elitist, snooze-inducing and bafflingly obscurantist; it thus gets critical attention since it’s created to suit critical “thinking.” (Tom Wolfe was on about this very same thing in his “The Painted Word.”) This includes Montclair State’s planned-on theater piece. This is the sort of stuff governments love to fund (even as I have a hard time imagining either Lautenberg or Menendez sitting through it).
    Perhaps, to, you haven’t traveled much through the South, where former military housing has frequently been transformed into civilian residences. As I was growing up, a few examples of this could also be seen in such towns as Wallington, Lodi and Woodridge, where during WWII and into the 50’s there were military installations nearby. So I think the comparison is valid.
    As for Diego RIvera, come now. His murals were fine for the would-be commissars of the CPUSA. and for the post-revolutionary situation in Mexico in the 30’s and 40’s. Others, however, might find his stuff just a bit purposely “naive” and politically slanted. Yet if I have to have naivete in art, I’ll always opt for the innocent likes of Grandma Moses. (Who unlike Diego Rivera and so many leftist artists of the period was a genuine peasant whose duties to the land pretty much precluded her from all that sloganeering anyway.)

  32. We don’t disagree as far as snooze-inducing and the rest of it, but truth be told virtaully all “art” appeals to a small number of people as a percentage of the population. Evn folks who read books of any kind are a very small percentage. But that should not, I’d argue, matter.
    I’m no Rivera devotee, but I think his work is impressive and it is very much in a Mexican context — a style that appeals to me. You don’t think he stuck the icepick in old Leon, do you?

  33. Croiagusanam, the Joseph Losey-Nicholas Mosley movie “The Assassination of Trotsky” made it very clear that Alain Delon did the deed to a Leon Trotsky who resembled and sounded like Richard Burton, while Romy Schneider stood by fetchingly.
    Even though, in the film, Trotsky was guarded by legions of machine gun-toting bodyguards who were led by none other than Michael Forest, who played both “Goliath” and “Atlas” in peplum movies. So much for superhero-dom, I suppose.

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