By James A. Nadeau
As February dawns it seems like a good time to take a look back at the first month of the year. January brought many surprises and unfortunately not all of them were good. The good stuff entailed an administrative change in our country's leadership, which might actually mean more money for the arts. So far the Obama administration has dedicated $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts, 40% of which is to be distributed through state and regional arts agencies. We'll see if this makes it through the Senate. The bad stuff occurring is... well it is a lot.
I'm not exactly sure where to begin. The governor of Massachusetts cut the budget of the Mass Cultural Council by $600,000. I'm going to lump this with both good and bad. Yes there was a cut but it wasn't as much as it could have been. As the budget has yet to be approved it is probably a bit early to be optimistic, even cautiously so. It could yet veer from the merely bad to simply horrifying in the next couple of months. This is one to watch.
Also in the vein of good/bad we have the departure of Bill Arning from the List Visual Arts Center at MIT. Bill is off to the city of Houston and their Contemporary Arts Museum. He joins Gilbert Vicario, who left Boston's ICA for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Carole Ann Meehan who left the ICA for Houston last year. What's going on down there? They keep stealing our people. This is pretty depressing to think about. Bill was a strong advocate for contemporary art and artists in Boston. He was responsible for not only bringing groundbreaking work to the List but also being a huge part of our community. And he loved doing studio visits. We wish him good luck and congratulate him on his new position but it still kinda sucks. Thankfully Jane Farver is still here and it is going to be interesting to see who will take his place. We'll have an interview with Bill in an upcoming issue of Big Red.
The bad stuff this month is pretty bad. What does it say about an institution that decides to shut down its art museum? What does is say when this institution sets out to sell its art collection to make up for budgetary gaps? The Rose is being shut down. Brandeis has decided to ease its dire fiscal straights by shutting down one of the leading contemporary museums in the area and selling off its contents. There has been a great deal of anger and disbelief about this. Big RED offers commentary in this issue so I won't belabor the issue here. My one observation is utter disbelief that Brandeis would opt to shut down its art museum for the sake of other departments. This decision is damaging not only for the artists, employees, students, and hundreds of alumni who loved the museum, it shows that the university isn't really dedicated to the creation of a well-rounded individual. By dispensing with the art museum you are eliminating the opportunity to open eyes and change lives. You are taking away the possibility that someone's life might actually be changed by an artistic experience. Joseph Polisi, president of The Juliard School, was recently interviewed in the journal The Fletcher Forum for World Affairs, and in this article he is asked why he thinks the private sector does not seem capable or willing to support the arts in the way that the government has the potential to do? His answer is quite telling in light of Brandeis' decision:
In the 1970s, the arts were more or less deleted from the curricula of primary and secondary programs in most of the large urban centers of the United States. And now we have sown, we are now reaping; today's leaders, who are now in their forties and fifties, have never experienced arts education at any level the way that used to happen in the 1950s. Why should these individuals have an epiphany about supporting the arts when they never really understood how the arts function in society in the first place?
It is quite obvious those who believe that art is expendable are leading Brandeis. They have no concept of its role or importance. It is truly disturbing.
But what this event has shown is that there are people out there who care about art and are willing to fight to keep it. It is often hard to get people worked up about the art scene is Boston and New England. Those with enthusiasm and drive usually head to New York or Los Angeles. Yes, it is frustrating to lose the Rose Museum. However, perhaps we should look around and reevaluate what we do have. February brings new and fantastic shows: Contemporary Chinese art at the Peabody Essex, video art at the ICA (actually opening in March), Taylor Davis and Nicole Cherubini at the List, Dinh Q. Lê at Tufts and many others.
We are ringing in the new month and celebrating last year's success tomorrow night at the Beehive. January has been a long difficult month (and not just because of what I mentioned above, the weather has been pretty bad too). But lets look forward to another month and another year. We should celebrate the good things about the art scene in Boston and across New England. I could harp on how much things suck (and I usually do) but in the deep dark days of winter it is nice to have one night where we recognize the good things. I hope to see you there.
Image from the artist's website.