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'Hunger Games' ' Stanley Tucci to go to bat for arts funding

March 20, 2012 |  3:17 pm

Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in
Does star power matter on Capitol Hill?

Well, here’s something to ponder: Last April 5,  Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey were scheduled to address a House appropriations hearing as part of the annual Arts Advocacy Day organized by Americans for the Arts, which spearheads the arts-lobbying effort in Washington.

Their appearance got canceled, and congressional ears missed the two actors’ pitches for averting the 12.6% budget cut that President Obama was then proposing for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Three days later, congressional leaders struck a temporary budget deal that reduced NEA funding by 7.5%. Then, when Congress got around to passing the 2011-12 federal budget, it deepened the cut to 12.7%. The NEA was left with $146.2 million to spend, down from the $167.5 it had commanded when the year began.

It’s debatable whether star-powered oratory really would have helped --  2011, you’ll recall, was a year in which Washington was consumed by a near-impasse over how much to cut the federal deficit, prompting fears that the government might shut down entirely.

Now it’s time to deliberate on a budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, and Americans for the Arts is again bringing star power to bear, in hopes of securing a modest recovery for the nation's arts grantmaking agency. On Thursday, actor Stanley Tucci (pictured in "Hunger Games" with its star, Jennifer Lawrence) and Americans for the Arts President Robert Lynch are scheduled to address the House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior. The goal, says Americans for the Arts, is to raise the NEA’s budget to $155 million -- a 6% increase that would be slightly more than the $154.3 million that Obama recently proposed.

Tucci shared writing and directing credits for “Big Night” while playing its frazzled restaurateur, and his acting highlights include nominations for a Tony (“Frankie and Johnny”) and an Oscar ( “The Lovely Bones”).  He’s about to appear as the blue-haired, shiny-suited television interviewer Caesar Flickerman, who presents contestants who’ve been chosen to fight to the death for the viewing audience's pleasure in the dystopian future of “Hunger Games.” 

According to Americans for the Arts' preview of Tucci's testimony, he will tell House members that “we must not look at the arts as an adjunct to society, but a vital and integral part of society. Sometimes the arts make us think and see things as we have never before, sometimes they simply entertain, and sometimes, if we are lucky, they do both.”

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Critic's notebook: Stanley Tucci, the leading man of supporting players

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "Hunger Games." Credit: Murray Close/Lionsgate Films.

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