When I read about the president’s entire Arts Council resigning, I cheered. Who expected that a handful of America’s culture czars would, surprisingly, step out of the way and give up their undemocratic, though tax-funded, authority?
The resigners included such millionaires as artist Chuck Close, playwright-director George C. Wolfe, and TV-movie comedian Kal Penn. Not mere council members, each one was a known Obama supporter (and recipient of Obama-administration honor or favor). Their resignations were overdue since, owing to the election’s change in administrations, they should have resigned already — in January, before the inauguration, when they could have faked good conscience.
By waiting until the dirty dog days of August, they seem to have belatedly revealed that they never respected or honestly collaborated with the new administration; they simply kept their well-remunerated advisory gigs.
Now, after the mess of Charlottesville and the mainstream media’s deliberate misreading of White House statements, these czars have uncustomarily succumbed to show-business, art-world, and theater-bubble peer pressure.
Peer pressure is an undeniable part of the arts-panel experience — as it is also evidence of millennial virtue-posturing.
After serving on a National Endowment for the Arts panel in 1990, I resigned myself to the truth of what I had observed there: The feeling of power — of helping advance projects by talented and untalented petitioners alike — was both a privilege and a burden. My sharpest instincts as a practicing arts critic had to be held somewhat in check, while my “liberal” experience as an always-hopeful audience member turned into something strange. I was obliged to become a citizen-gambler, taking a chance on that gift word “art,” hoping that petitioners would make work that served their fellows: Was this project using X-rays really a work of artistic imagination? Would this film adaptation of O. Henry signify true originality? Was this applicant essentially just a money-grubber who could not depend on a paying public’s approval? Would I be essentially subsidizing a hustler’s rent and restaurant tabs?
Since 1990, I have learned that arts councils comprise a culture unto themselves. The government isn’t run by aesthetes, but it sometimes depends upon professionals who have demonstrated an interest in the arts to act as a government intermediary. Giving arbitrary authority to a select few isn’t to be taken lightly. A new administration has lots to do, and correctly overseeing so many councils is more than one man can handle.
But it seems to me that this upstart arts council of disingenuous holdover resignees should have been disbanded months ago — around the time no bigger name than Jackie Evancho could be convinced to perform for the American people’s quadrennial inauguration ceremony.
Looking back from personal and civilian experience, this mass resignation is great. Start from zero. (Grants are usually only given to political fellow-travelers anyway.) I say, begin again. Refute the Obama revolution that “transformed” America into an elitist state of empowered celebrities. It had filled the government with uncompromising progressives — wealthy ones at that — who would rather see the system collapse than compromise their egotism. Let freeloader grant applicants squirm, or let Hollywood, Broadway and the mainstream media — our new czars — get off the government tit and totally fund themselves.