Culture Wars 2.0

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore rising pressure from government sources against arts and culture. The most noticeable example is the Trump administration’s attempt to disband the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), but there are more machinations afoot indicating increased interest in suppressing art and culture, especially if it is in any way deemed politically subversive.

Adaptistration People 195The 2/17/2017 edition of the Carroll County Times (MD) published an article by Emily Chappell that reports on a decision by Carroll County Public Schools to remove posters from Westminster High School because they believed the teachers were using the posters to take a political stance. The posters in question are a trio from a series titled “We the People” depicting Latina, Muslim and African-American women in a similar artistic treatment to the 2008 Obama “Hope” posters. That similarity isn’t a coincidence; both “We the People” and “Hope” artworks were created by artist Shepard Fairey.

The next instance comes by way of the 2/21/2017 edition of the Washington Post, which published an article by Spencer S. Hsu that reports House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis) ordered a paining removed because it violated rules against “depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalistic or gruesome nature” on the Capitol premises. In response, the artist and his congressman have filed a lawsuit to have the painting put back on public display.

Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) and Missouri student David Pulphus said in a 19-page lawsuit in Washington that the Architect of the Capitol violated Pulphus’s First Amendment rights in “bowing to overt political pressure” from House Republicans to remove the work Jan. 17 after it had been displayed for seven months.

Pulphus said the painting, one of more than 400 works by winners of a national student art contest from each congressional district, was inspired by the 2014 civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo., near his home. The art depicted a horned beast similar to a wild boar in a police uniform in the foreground tangling with a protester rendered as a wolf. In the background, protesters hold signs, including one that says, “Racism kills.”

Granted, visual arts are almost always on the front line in culture war battles while music tends to sit comfortably in reserve. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on these developments and render assistance whenever possible. For instance, there is a group of Westminster High School students that launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for purchasing T-shirts with the same images school administrators deemed unsuitable for a protest on March 1.

They met their $5,000 goal in two days and are keeping their message simple: celebrating diversity in their community through art is not political.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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