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Arts workers meet Dr. No

February 9, 2009 |  5:03 am

What has Sen. Tom Coburn, the conservative Oklahoma Republican, got against art museum jobs?

Seattle_sculpture_park_2 In 2005, the Seattle Art Museum had just about put together financing to complete construction of an $85-million downtown sculpture park, which would knit together the city and a shoreline long cut off by freeways and train tracks. The state had contributed $5.4 million, the county $1.5 million, the city $4.2 million; private donors had made gifts, including art, for the Olympic Sculpture Park. Construction jobs were ready to go, and museum jobs to operate the park hung in the balance. Coburn, a former physician who has become the Senate's self-styled Dr. No, tried to run it off the rails.

At issue was legislation that included $500,000 from the federal government. In what the Seattle Post-Intelligencer described as a "long and unusually personal" exchange, which plainly surprised Senate colleague Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Coburn lambasted the broad public-private partnership as an "egregious" example of wasteful spending. He lumped it in with Alaska's notorious bridge-to-nowhere.

Sen_tom_coburn_alex_wong_getty_im_2 Now Coburn is trying to ensure that no art museum — or theater or other performing arts center — will be eligible for jobs funds in the federal stimulus package. A Coburn amendment to block such allegedly "wasteful" jobs spending passed late Friday, 73 votes to 24. If the Senate bill passes Tuesday, as many expect, it will then go to a House-Senate conference committee, which will negotiate the differences between the House and Senate versions. The House bill doesn't include a ban on culture industry spending. Coburn's anti-arts-jobs amendment could be stripped out then.

Coburn's earlier effort to kill construction funding for the Olympic Sculpture Park died. Once construction and museum crews finished their work, the sculpture park proved to be a triumph.

Why does Coburn persist now? Like the late Jesse Helms, a conservative Republican who relished his role as Senator No, obstruction is the name of Dr. No's game. In December, he voted against federal loans to Detroit automakers. In January, he voted against extending SCHIP, the children's health insurance program for low-income families. He pretty much opposes any federal spending and supports tax cuts. That trickle-down economic philosophy is being plowed under in the job-creating stimulus bill that, in some form, will likely pass this week. So, the best he can do is try to throw up a few roadblocks.

Let's just hope that, given the size of the bill and the speed with which it needs to be negotiated, the Democratic-controlled Congress doesn't overlook Coburn's obnoxious amendment. You might want to remind your senators and representatives to pull it out. Contact them here.

—Christopher Knight

Photo: Olympic Sculpture Park. Credit: Alan Berner / Seattle Times

Photo: Sen. Tom Coburn. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (5)

Shameful sort sightedness by our representatives. America should be embarrassed by the lack of support for the arts. Feinstien should be called to account for her vote.

Artistes are always looking for a a handout. This is an economic stimulus bill, not the budget. Funds are already earmarked for those insitutions that need it, like the NEA. If further funds are needed there, it should be debated at that time and place, when the budget is assembled.

This has nothing to do wiht that, just more bad artistes looking for a buck. Art spending does NOT lead to growth, its bang for the buck obscenely small. Huge wasteful sculptures that lead to nothing, just sit there for the birds to use, and result in few jobs, but great expense, are not to be part of such a bill. Debate it later, at the appropriate time and place. i am all for spending on cultural spaces, and PBS, but not extra to small museums which need to be independant and if important to the locals, will be funded by them. No wasting huge public funds on things few ever use or go to, like MoCA. if it is to survive, then those who enjoy and use it must pay. Simple as that. Movies dont get federal bailouts, and shouldnt, neither should artistes, who need to justify thier worth, not be on the public dole and so produce soft and insular works of self absorbtion

If it is not for the publics enjoyment and acknowledged worth, why should we pay for it? Far more important items on the agenda before this, things that will lead to not just temporary one time job cration, but that wil lead to long term growth, economic restructuring and public benefit.

Art is not on that list, certainly not in its current, decayed, insular, and self serving state. When artists have shown a public good, then they may be given a commission,for a specific work. that is needed. NOT grants and monies wasted on those who need to go get jobs and contribute to the economy, not be leaches. The weakness in the arts bred by dependancy on public funds has ruined the independance and meaningfull purpose in the creative arts. Its self worshipping nature and effete self indulgnce has no meaning for any but a decadent few. soft and unproductive. And this bill is all about productivity, that which will soften the blow of this Depression which is still growing, it will be a lng hard two or three years, this is no recession. Art must contribute, not take. This is not the way.

art collegia delenda est

Donald, you are also short sighted. Orchestras and other music related arts organizations do an enormous amount of public good through outreach and educational concerts across the country. In fact, I am certain that non profit arts organizations have shouldered much if not all of the arts education for our public schools. You comment about artists being "leaches" shows an utter lack of knowledge and taste.

And you have the typical myopic artiste reading disability. I said, this is NOT the budget, this is an economic stimulus package. Funding such things as orchestras is mostly regional, some with private grants, and also, what did I say children? Yes, NEA funds.

That has nothing to do withthis bill. And should not, strictly those things to get our faltering economy from collapsing totally, and arr is not of that. It certainly has its worth, well, not the crap coming out of art schools, but used to. And legit organizations do fulfill a need, if proven by enough local fundraising that it has a public.

Otherwise, its just spoiled kids play things. And NO money EVER again for such waste. This driven by and never vistited "art" park would be such a boondoggle.

art collegia delenda est

I guess when you see a play you only think of the people on stage, the actors. Well, that is what we want you to think about. It is funny that we, in the performing arts, have created an industry with tens of thousands of employees, that provides a 7:1 ratio of return *dollar for dollar* into the economy, built on the idea that you are not supposed to think of anyone but the actors on the stage. Imagine if the auto industry was only represented by used-car-salesmen. I would not support any package that gave a used car-salesmen any money - why do they need it? But I would support a package that gave the tens of thousands of hard working Americans who designed and built that car funds to sustain their life, to put food on the table and to provide medicine for their children (Which I guess is funny considering how much money each of those union workers get paid compared to those in the performing arts). Maybe you just don't think about the welders who build the steel frames that hold up scenic structures or the painters who work show to show on short term contracts. They don't need healthcare, do they? They're just a bunch of artists who've decided to live paycheck to paycheck and leech off of society – wasting tax dollars better spent on screeners to watch you remove your shoes at the airport.

Last year, American Express hosted the second annual “Members’ Project” where members vote on where $1m should go. In the second to last round, when they narrowed it down to the top 20 choices, there was not one that had anything to do with “arts & culture.” I guess this shows you where our country is going. Not even private companies will donate to us when polling their constituents. Maybe we should move past the used-car-salesmen and show the country that while “all the world’s a stage” the majority of the world is off-stage.

On behalf of the welders, painters, administrative professionals, box office staffs, carpenters, electricians, ushers, house managers, drafters, stitchers, run-crews, light operators, sound technicians, interns, stage managers, props artisans, wed designers, graphic artists, PR managers, school administrators, dramaturges, facilities managers, fleet operators, housing agents, travel agents, operations managers, production assistants, designers – and – actors, I ask that you support arts funding. Not because of what you see on the stage, but because of what you don’t see, behind the stage.


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