Today's article is mostly about that whole federal budget thing you might have heard about recently. It's not really a fun story, so here's some better local news at the top, just to take the edge of things:
(1) The national arts support organization Fractured Atlas recently announced its 2017 Entrepreneurship Awards, recognizing operational innovations in the arts. This year, the Southern Theater in Minneapolis was recognized for it's all-access ARTshare program. Congratulations!
(2) More congratulations to Off-Leash Area! The experimental theater company has spent many years touring to garages and other found spaces, but recently they announced that they will be moving to a permanent space in south Minneapolis. You can follow their progress as they turn a former video store (which was also a former auto shop) into a brand-new theater space.
(By the way, Off-Leash: if you're looking for spiffy stuff to outfit your new digs, the equipment from the recently-defunct Bedlam Lowertown is up for auction.)
(3) Minnesota just keeps on exporting the goods. In 2014, Children's Theatre Company helped develop the play Seedfolks, and now they will be sending it down to South Africa.
(4) Do you want to meet other theater people, but you just don't know how? You could ask literally anyone you work with anywhere; theater folks work in all sorts of other jobs. Or, you could attend the new Monday Night Mingles at the Phoenix Theater.
Oh, Mr. President, your budget is so hard!
Last week on News and Notes, I told you all not to write the epitaph for the National Endowment for the Arts just yet. At the time, Trump's proposed federal budget hadn't even been released yet, and perhaps he could have still had some sort of enlightening encounter with three ghosts that taught him the error of his cruel, selfish ways; or maybe he could have heard the singing of the villagers below, causing his heart to grow three sizes that day. Unfortunately, we don't live in a Christmas movie, and, though Trump's heart has probably swollen several times its natural size, that has more to do with the effects of his unwavering love of Domino's pizza, deep-fried chicken and Big Macs.
Instead, last Thursday we were all treated to the unveiling of Trump's actual proposed budget, in which he doubled down on his hard-hearted intentions by cutting all federal arts and humanities funding, along with federal funding of just about everything that doesn't cause human beings to violently explode. After that, I'm guessing he celebrated with a Double Down, which will only further harden his arteries and eventually cause them to also violently explode. Of course, artists like Tony Kushner see these cuts as "an appalling idea"; but to Trump and his acolytes, it's what they call a "hard power" budget, a term that will soon give Chuck Tingle another best-selling title.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, one of the few fully-functional adults in Trump's administration, once said “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition". This statement was meant to underline the importance of diplomacy in preventing unnecessary conflicts with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the Donald took him literally and proposed taking all the money saved from all those budget cuts and plowing it straight into the military. (By the way, "Plowing it Straight Into the Military" is another great title for you, Mr. Tingle!) It's the kind of short-sighted, ignorant, macho fantasy of national power that you might hear drunkenly slurred outside of a Buffalo Wild Wings at two in the morning, except that now it's on an official document that's been sent to Congress, though, it probably still has buffalo sauce smeared on it.
At the Washington Post, Alexandra Petri parodied this budget in a satirical article with statements like "The NEA will be destroyed and replaced with an armored helicopter with a shark painted on it" and "AMERICA WILL BE STRONGER THAN IT HAS EVER BEEN! Anyone who survives will be a gun covered in the fur of a rare mammal, capable of fighting disease with a single muscular flex. RAW POWER! HARD RAW POWER GRRRRRR HISSS POW!" Just to show that we are now living in a fun-house mirror version of reality, the Trump White House actually sent out a link to that article as "proof" of how great Trump's budget will be, which means that our dear leaders either don't have the patience or reading comprehension skills to make it through a complete paragraph, or they think that "All schoolchildren will be taught by an F-35 wearing a Make America Great Again hat" is a workable policy proposal. Either option gives you a hilarious new way to cry yourself to sleep tonight.
So, shall we commence to fretting?
Oh, god, absolutely not! No President ever gets the budget they want. This is just the opening act of the annual dumbshow of federal budgeting. You should stick around and watch the whole thing. Up next, the House Republicans will be presenting that classic vaudeville routine, "Who's On Socialism?" and after that Rand Paul will be performing a ribald skit in which he pretends to make love to a copy of The Fountainhead. At least, I think he's pretending. Oh my god, I don't know if he's pretending! (And also, Chuck Tingle, there's another freebie for you).
Congress actually writes the budget, and Congress has 535 individuals in two different houses squabbling about everything. They would have intense, rancorous arguments about bowtie pasta if you let them. But, there is one thing that most of them seem to agree on: this budget proposal is going nowhere on a rocket sled, just like every other budget that every other President has ever proposed. Think of the President's budget proposal as a Christmas wish-list written by a five-year-old (which should be really easy to do in this case): just because he demands the entire set of Marvel superhero action figures, a pony named Bob, a motorcycle with a really loud engine that goes "VROOM!", his own bedroom with his own refrigerator full of Coca-Cola that his sister absolutely can't have, and a rocketship with bombs that blow up the sun, it doesn't mean that his parents will actually buy all that stuff for him. Most of those things are impossible, except for Bob, who's only the greatest pony in the whole wide world. In the end, he'll probably get that Incredible Hulk figure, and, maybe if it's on sale, the Iron Man one, and that's it. If he throws a screaming, crying tantrum in the middle of the living room, then so be it. It's not up to me to placate the little brat. He's not my kid.
Even the Republicans in Congress don't like this budget. Many of them are already declaring it "dead on arrival" (though, unfortunately, some of those conservatives are mad that it doesn't call for even more military spending).
You can't think about the President's budget as a series of serious, somber, well-thought-out proposals, because, come on, he's literally calling it "Hard Power", which should be the title of a Steven Seagal movie (or gay erotica; or perhaps both if Mr. Tingle is writing it). Instead, you have to view it as another greasy window into the mind of Trump. It's just a ceremonial statement of his priorities, which are largely informed by his ego and shameless lack of empathy.
Now that you know what you're up against, what do you do?
Like I always tell you, you've got to get out there an advocate for what you want. Don't get bogged down in refighting the culture wars. This should not be a liberal/conservative divide. The NEA funds work in every single congressional district, rural and urban, rich and poor. Its relatively tiny budget helps leverage other money for arts development all across the country, which generates community and economic development that no overpriced fighter jet program can accomplish. Along the way, it has also helped to create a number of great contributions to American culture. This is why you actually have Republican congress members on your side in defending the NEA.
So, don't despair. Defend. If you're not sure where to start, let Americans for the Arts help you badger your elected representatives in Washington. For the elected officials who are already on your side, it gives them powerful support. For the ones who aren't already there, it gives them a powerful warning. Democracy gives citizens enormous power, so long as they actually get off their butts and choose to use it en masse.
So, get off your butt and put it to work, before Chuck Tingle does.
Whether or not the NEA goes the way of the dodo, the possibility of losing that avenue of support should be spurring us to also think about how we do business. How can we spur demand for our products instead of just insisting that they're important? How can we enter into partnerships that can be mutually beneficial? How do we create audience-focused methods of financing to insure that we can keep the lights on? We live in new times, and we should all be on the lookout for new ideas to keep up with them.
He can talk! He can talk! I can sing!
The Browbeat blog at Slate recently took up the subject of movie musicals, and made the case that, if movie stars are going to be cast in singing roles, Hollywood should really consider bringing back the old practice of dubbing. Failing that, they should at least send those movie stars to adult musical theater camp.