The Playgoer: Dana Gioia at Stanford

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dana Gioia at Stanford

Bush's NEA chief surprisingly strays more than you might think in this commencement speech from the party line on the state of the arts in America. And at no less a conservative bastion as Stanford University.

And by that I mean he doesn't mention Bush 3 times every page! Not at all, in fact...

But he also at least alludes to the deteriorating effects of the capitalism:

But we must remember that the marketplace does only one thing—it puts a price on everything. The role of culture, however, must go beyond economics. It is not focused on the price of things, but on their value. And, above all, culture should tell us what is beyond price, including what does not belong in the marketplace. A culture should also provide some cogent view of the good life beyond mass accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing us.
Of course I would differ only in that I don't believe "culture" should just be about "the finer things" and immune to economics, as both an influence and subject matter. At some point, this kind of astheticist appeal only helps reinforce economic injustice....But hey, I hardly expect Gioia to be a Brechtian!

It's also refreshing to see our NEA Chair frankly address not just education, but class as an ever more decisive and divisive factor in the experience of the arts.

At 56, I am just old enough to remember a time when every public high school in this country had a music program with choir and band, usually a jazz band, too, sometimes even orchestra. And every high school offered a drama program, sometimes with dance instruction. And there were writing opportunities in the school paper and literary magazine, as well as studio art training.

I am sorry to say that these programs are no longer widely available to the new generation of Americans. This once visionary and democratic system has been almost entirely dismantled by well-meaning but myopic school boards, county commissioners, and state officials, with the federal government largely indifferent to the issue. Art became an expendable luxury, and 50 million students have paid the price. Today a child's access to arts education is largely a function of his or her parents' income.

Oh, there's other stuff in the speech that's more GOP-friendly, for sure ("surely artists and intellectuals are partly to blame" for being out of touch), but much of this is refreshing.

Now let's see if the man get squeeze any more funding out of a Democratic Congress in these the (presumably) final months of his tenure.

Meanwhile, Canada is putting us to shame in this area, of course. Even under a conservative government, it is assumed that "cultural heritage" gets a healthy increase.

PS. Interesting developing news on the Mayor Bloomberg & NYC School System's about face on arts in school.

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