The Playgoer: Lincoln Center OK With Creepy Tea Party Billionaire

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lincoln Center OK With Creepy Tea Party Billionaire

Yes, they keep pulling me back in...

So I open my New Yorker and there's this big exposee about these wacky Koch brothers--billionaire fascists who basically fund the Tea Party movement.  And then I think, hm, David H. Koch, where have I heard that before...Oh yeah, that David H. Koch.

Been to the NYC Ballet in the last couple of years?  Or the NYC opera? Or some of the larger Lincoln Center Summer Festival events? (like even "A Disappearing Number" by this week's scholarly subject, Complicite?)  Well then, you were in this guy's house!

Two summers ago, Lincoln Center announced they were renaming what was formerly the New York State Theatre (home to the NYC Opera and Ballet) after the man the Times called "the wealthiest resident of New York City" after he "agreed to contribute $100 million toward the renovation of the New York State Theater."

Now we learn where that $100 million comes from:

In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.”

And where it goes:

The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.
So what's a New York arts lover to do?  Do we cast Mr. Koch out of the temple, hand him back his check and say "right wing nuts are not welcome in the arts"?  I'm tempted to say yes, actually.  In times like these, anyone with Mr. Koch's plutocratic agenda is clearly working against the lives of artists, whether he knows it or not.  Anyone willfully spreading lies about death panels to prevent citizens from getting health insurance is not a "friend of the arts."  Anyone willing to poison our public discourse by demonizing a president--any president--as a crypto-terrorist birth-certificiate not a "friend of the arts."

No, the arts don't belong to "liberals."  In New York--nay, even more so in other American cities--rich Republican plutocratcs are a bigger doner pool for the arts than "we" probably realize.  (Ballet, for instance, seems to cross all ideological barriers.)  Conservatives already think there's a leftist conspiracy to keep them out of the arts--to not produce their plays, to poison their children's minds with prurient updatings of Shakespeare.  So I don't want to fan those fears.

But surely we can agree--no?--that we do not need to save a place at the table for men like this:

As their fortunes grew [in the 1970s], Charles and David Koch became the primary underwriters of hard-line libertarian politics in America. Charles’s goal, as Doherty described it, was to tear the government “out at the root.” The brothers’ first major public step came in 1979, when Charles persuaded David, then thirty-nine, to run for public office. They had become supporters of the Libertarian Party, and were backing its Presidential candidate, Ed Clark, who was running against Ronald Reagan from the right. Frustrated by the legal limits on campaign donations, they contrived to place David on the ticket, in the Vice-Presidential slot; upon becoming a candidate, he could lavish as much of his personal fortune as he wished on the campaign..... Many of the ideas propounded in the 1980 campaign presaged the Tea Party movement. Ed Clark told The Nation that libertarians were getting ready to stage “a very big tea party,” because people were “sick to death” of taxes. The Libertarian Party platform called for the abolition of the F.B.I. and the C.I.A., as well as of federal regulatory agencies, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Energy. The Party wanted to end Social Security, minimum-wage laws, gun control, and all personal and corporate income taxes; it proposed the legalization of prostitution, recreational drugs, and suicide. Government should be reduced to only one function: the protection of individual rights. William F. Buckley, Jr., a more traditional conservative, called the movement “Anarcho-Totalitarianism.”
Yes, Bill Buckley.  William F. Buckley called the Koch's too right wing.

And if that's not enough Koch is the moneyman behind "Americans for Prosperity."  Know what that is?  Enjoy:

More of their greatest hits here.

So I don't know what's worse--if Lincoln Center knew all about this guy before taking his money and glorifying him in perpertuity by naming their glistening golden concert hall after him, thus legitimating and redeeming his otherwise sleazy, slimy name....Or that they didn't.

The question of what they should do about it is moot since...yeah right they're going to hand back $100 mil!

Question is, what do we do?  Boycott NYC Opera and Ballet? Well, you might want to consider.  Nothing gets through to a nonprofit arts org louder and clearer than cancelling your subscription.

At the very least, those of us who care where our arts orgs get their money from should at least let Lincoln Center know how we feel. Somehow.


Rob said...

Normally this theater lover, long term NYC resident, and ardent Republican is a big fan of your blog. I must say, though, that I find this post incredibly disappointing.

Under your view I guess I should avoid all exhibits, etc. that George Soros gives money to, given that I find his politics pretty abhorrent. Like the Koch brothers, Soros throws his money around quite liberally for causes he believes in. Last time I checked, that was all of their rights. I'm glad that at the same time they see fit to support various art causes as well.

How about another idea: let's stick to talking about the work that these benefactors support, instead of throwing around terms like "fascists" in ways that suggest not everyone understands what they actually mean.

TheEsoCritic said...

I love your blog, Garrett, but I have to agree with your conservative friend above.

Artistically, there should be "a place at the table" for everyone, otherwise it isn't art. It becomes propaganda.

Taking aim at cultural institutions willing to sell their souls to big money is always appropriate, and I encourage you to keep beating that drum.

But it sounds like you're calling less for a boycott and more for a blacklist. We can't go there and call ourselves a free society based on enlightenment values. We just can't.

And I think you know this.

Matt said...

If anything, Koch's support for local institutions is just an expression of his political philosophy - support of these groups should be determined by individuals, not the government.

And as much as I disagree with most of the right, I think his money is as good as that of the out of touch, wealthy liberal who thinks bringing British born Shakespeare to NYC is more important than funding homegrown groups. (Yeah, I'm still pissed about the RSC's campaign to take over our theatre.)

For me, the real issue here is the disparity of funding in our arts community, at both the individual and state/federal level.

Anonymous said...

@Rob said: "How about another idea: let's stick to talking about the work that these benefactors support, instead of throwing around terms like "fascists" in ways that suggest not everyone understands what they actually mean." Those are not the only two alternatives. Just "talking about the work" and ignoring its funding is naive, and silence is any political agenda's best enabler. On the other hand, calling someone "fascist" is usually simplistic and rarely helpful.

Anonymous said...

"...A place at the table for everyone,'s propaganda."

What about "Pinochet Center for the Arts"? Or "Goebbels Center for the Arts"? Those have nice little rings. "Adolf Hitler Dance Hall" -- funded with all the gold he plundered from Jews and gay people. His money is as good as anyone's.

I know this is more extreme than Koch and that the Tea Party morons aren't Hitler, I know i know i know. But politics and art actually do have a relationship, and infractructure can't NOT have an impact on superstructure...

Just something to think about.

TheEsoCritic said...

I stand by my point, Anon. "Propaganda" is a politically neutral term and can be employed by anyone. And if there were an arts center named for Pinochet or Hitler, I have a feeling I'd know what to expect before considering a subscription.

I'd be curious to know, however, if any of the programming funded by the Koch brothers has explicitly toed the teabagger line.

This is the irony I'd rather you think about: you seem to be the kind of person who would deny a seat at the table for the kind of people who would deny people a seat at the table. Doesn't that make you at least a little bit like them?

But if you want to explore the extremes you mentioned for real, just google the Bayreuth Festival--it's one of the most famous opera fests in the world, founded by Wagner and lavishly doted on by the Nazis. There's no denying its influential place in artistic history... but there's no denying its umbilical attachment to the Nazis either.

Anonymous said...

It's a false equivalency to equate Soros and Koch - Koch funds political ideas that pad his bottom line exclusively, whereas Soros often supports initiatives that cost him money or raise his taxes. Also you cannot call turning down free money "denying someone a seat at the table." Also the Libertarian ideal in no way supports open opportunity for everyone. Libertarians are fighting tooth and nail for a world where everyone is free to do whatever the hell they want with their money, with no government interference, and no one has to "be fair" to anyone if they don't want, so if group A wants to discriminate against group B, they can, and it is up to group B to decide how to counter. Having said that, I say, Sure! take Koch's money. Why not let him do a few nice things among all the pain and misery and death? Should we tear down the Peterhof just because Stalin restored it?

Edward Einhorn said...

Looking at personal politics behind funders is a dangerous game, and just because Bill Buckley also disagreed with the politics of Koch doesn't mean they were more right wing, it means they come from a non-establishment point of view, versus Buckley's establishment conservatism. Yes, if Koch were also committing genocide, that might be food for a different sort of thought. But libertarianism, even at its most extreme, is a political philosophy. And theater should always be about opening discussion, not closing it.