Sunday, October 21, 2012

Obama + Musicians = Good, happy, fun times

Unfortunately, it's time to get political. 

I have heard too many an artist quip and complain that they are "apathetic" when it comes to politics. Yes, our political system is corrupt in many ways. Yes, the Electoral College is a joke. Yes, campaign financing is horrific. And yes, it is absurd to have a two-party system in such a vast, diverse nation. But you know what? There are candidates to vote for. And the outcome will affect your life. You cannot afford to be "above" it, because "above" could mean "below," in the sense that your apathy has forced the votes of people with questionable self-interest to win the election, gain power, and take over forces that could ultimately force you into poverty, joblessness, or ex-patriat-ism.

In a sense, the apathetic artist, particularly in the case of classical music and art, contributes to the growing sense of irrelevancy and elitism that has been the main focus of this blog. Sorry, folks - if you are a self-employed artist, and you get cancer without health insurance, and you have elected a candidate who opposes current health reforms, and don't have upwards of $200,000 to pay for treatment, the heroism of a Beethoven symphony isn't going to do anything for you, except maybe raise your spirits while you wither away. You have a body just like everyone else, and you, as a likely self-employed, debt-ridden, grant-writing member of the community, benefit from the common good. Artists: your well-being, employability, your financial future, and, ultimately, the health of music in this nation, depend in many ways on the policy and culture set forth by the candidates you elect.

I'm sure you all know or can guess that I am a fervent Obama fanatic, but, I'd like to just lay down some issues for you if you happen to be undecided. I am not going to even attempt to rid myself of bias, but that's because these issues have truly affected me on a personal level - and I expect that we share this in common.  Upon perusing the internet, I haven't found many voter's resources that cater to the artist, as we are such a small but vulnerable component of the population. I hope this article can, at the very least, help you realize the importance of your vote for whoever and whatever candidates, and inspire you to be involved with policy-making and discussion on any greater level.

Some issues artist-voters should consider:

National Endowment for the Arts

The most obvious is funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Now, I have engaged in many a firey conversation with fellow artists on the relevancy of this organization in today's world, with Kickstarter and Indiegogo providing immense amounts of funding for various organizations. But, the fact remains that, if we have a governmental institution that supports the arts and is well-respected and well-funded, we are a step closer to disseminating a cultural belief in the importance of the arts throughout the nation. It is true that governmental agencies, while often inefficient, have a symbolic affect on the populace, and if we eliminate any national recognition that arts are an important part of our moral and social lives, we risk communicating this to our vulnerable cultural identity. Moreover, if governmental grants and other programs provide yet another avenue for independant artists and organizations to seek funding, then we are well off! Kickstarter, Indiegogo, state and federal grant programs must all coexist for us to have an inspiring, multi-faceted future. Young children and teenagers will be more drawn to a career in the arts that offers the stable edifice of governmental support - imagine the fear a teenager off to college would face if she knew that her only prospects of funding were Kickstarter and Indiegogo! Without a reputation, it's nearly impossible to make a decent living off of these resources. But the NEA funds organizations, which in turn give us jobs. We cannot afford to lose the NEA. You don't have to use it, but it needs to exist.

Presidential candidates' positions on the NEA

Barack Obama: supports increased funding to the NEA. Cuts occurred in 2009 as part of a drastic across-the-board cut for all government spending, but his 2013 budget includes very hopeful allegations towards the arts. More here, here (PLEASE READ THIS ONE!!!!), and here.

Quotes: "..We have to remember that our strength as a people runs deeper than our military might; it runs deeper than our GDP -- it's also about our values and our ideals that each generation is called to uphold, and that each artist helps us better understand.

And it's also about the capacity of the arts and the humanities to connect us to one another. In a nation as big as ours, as diverse as ours, as full as debate and consternation as it sometimes is, what the people we honor here today remind us of is that kernel of ourselves that connects to everyone else and allows us to get out of ourselves, to see through somebody else's eyes, to step in their shoes. And what more vital ingredient is there for our democracy than that?" - Barack Obama, awarding the 2010 National
Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal (full transcript here

Mitt Romney: supports cutting the NEA drastically and even gutting it entirely, as well as education and other programs that feed into the arts (you probably heard him hate all over Big Bird). During his tenure as governor of Masschusetts, Romney attempted to drastically cut arts funding, but was unsuccessful due to congress. Romney is not alone in this, as the general GOP platform doesn't support spending in much other than defense and corporate bailouts. Importantly, gutting the NEA and other programs, while it would save a few pennies, doesn't even touch balancing the budget, and in a sense this becomes a cut for principle rather than for effective policy and growth. More here and here, and in this hugely important post about Romney's tenure as governer, and how he tried to cut the Massachusetts Cultural Council grants which enable many of us at Longy to do what we do.

Quotes: "Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to stand on their own." Mitt Romney, in an interview. 

And just for fun, a quote from our ol' friend Sarah "Winkin' Countrypants" Palin: "NPR, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, all those kind of frivolous things that government shouldn't be in the business of funding with tax dollars -- those should all be on the chopping block as we talk about the $14-trillion debt that we're going to hand to our kids and our grandkids. Yes, those are the type of things that for more than one reason need to be cut." - Don't you just LOVE her??

Education and Student Loans

Look, we're all probably in some form of student loan debt, and many of us likely discovered our passion for music though a publicly funded in-school arts education program. These issues go hand in hand: it is in their best interest for artists to support candidates who provide more funding for education, which has several results. First of all, more allocation to education funds nationally can help lower tuition and provide grants and scholarships for students in all fields, particularly the arts. Secondly, more funding towards public education means schools have greater means to include arts in their curriculum; exposing children at young ages means more people interested in arts as a career, more cultural support for the arts, and, surprise, more jobs for those of us who are already trained and working in the arts world. I can't imagine why you would vote for a candidate who wants this all privatized and at the whim of a billionaire's pocket, but, that's an option if for some twisted reason this appeals to you. And, lastly, since so many of us are already in debt, we need a candidate who will help us find solutions to pay off our loans in a way that corresponds with our income, and also who keeps interest rates from rising. To go along with this, the jobs from aforementioned education funding will help us pay off our debt in a more timely matter. (And maybe a few NEA grants, at that).

Presidential candidates positions on student loans and education funding

Barack Obama: in 2012, kept student loan interest rates from rising; capped student loan repayments at 10% of income; growth in Pell Grants; eliminated No Child Left Behind; supports states' individual initiative in educational policies; seeks to tighten federal oversight of tuition for for-profit institutions; proposes to invest in community colleges that train students for specific jobs, enhancing job growth; opposes voucher programs and public tax money used for private schools;  I could go on forever. 

Mitt Romney: thinks the federal government should have little to do with k-12 education excepting cases for disabled and and poor students; proposes to restructure Pell Grants, making them rarer and only allocating to the most disadvantaged of students; would attempt to eliminate regulation on student loan lenders, believing the private sector is better equipped to handle loan situations (which is clearly terrifying); agreed with Obama to keep student loan interest rates down; wanted to ban bilingual education as governor of MA (legislation did not pass); wanted to require the parents in the lowest-performing schools to attend parenting classes while they put their children in full-day kindergarten (appalling, also did not pass). Overall, Romney is a little ambiguous on education (what a surprise), but his emphasis on letting the private sector "take care of it" should be a note of caution for all of us - when banks are involved, this is a very unsafe route. Obama's proven record and enthusiasm for education is, perhaps, a more solid route for the voter to follow.

A good article here that pits issues of both candidates side-to-side.


If you are an artist, health insurance is a tricky, soft issue. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, many artists are self-employed, which often means they are either paying out of pocket for their own insurance, or simply do not have it. Even in my fervent support of Obama, I am appalled at the United States' general inability to pass universal health care: I'm sure there is a link somewhere where someone has proved that universal healthcare is tied to healthy artistic cultures, because when you have poor, self-employed people who are often suffering mentally and physically from their very occupation (tendinitis? laryngitis? performance anxiety?), draining their finances on doctor's visits cannot be particularly healthy to the economy or the well-being of art in that nation. Because of the national attention given to Obamacare, I probably don't need to outline all the points of why it benefits you as an artist; and also, you live in Massachusetts, and our healthcare system was the model for Obamacare. Ironically, of course, because it was the very Governor Romney who instigated it, and now he thinks it's bad news. Another reason to be wary of his ways. 

Presidential candidates' positions on healthcare

Barack Obama: developed and passed Obamacare, or, the Affordable Care Act, which was upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional and a "tax." As I'm sure you know, ACA allows people with pre-existing conditions to get health insurance; prevents women from paying more on health insurance simply due to their gender; health insurance is more affordable to those who have to purchase it, of particular interest to us; young people are allowed to stay on parents insurance until age 26, particularly helpful for young artists; medicaid expansion; cuts the deficit; more and more and more and more. Read more simply on its Wiki or here, a site outlining myths and facts about Obamacare.

Mitt Romney: vows to appeal Obamacare for unknown reasons if he's elected, most likely because of principle that the government should take the backseat to the private sector. So, this is where "principle" becomes really harmful and irrelevant. Keep in mind that opposition to Obamacare was people saying that they did not want to be told to have healthcare. Just ponder that for a moment. The GOP thinks that millions should be without care simply because.... they don't want to be told that. As an artist, you need a healthcare safety net: please consider this. Read Mitt Romney's position on Obamacare here; of course, like everything else, he has a variety of responses, most of them to the tune of "Uhh, Government should not do stuff... and I'm better than you so you should listen." We can be assured that he would allocate more power to the private sector which, as usual for artists, does more harm than good.

Global Reputation

Something we don't often think about: the arts is an international career. In order for meaningful, relevant art to be created, cultures must mix, relationships must be positive. We need a candidate who promotes a positive image of American culture abroad, in order for artists to be drawn to work with us; we need cultures from the developing world to look upon our leader with an inspired attitude, to see our leader as someone that understands recognizes and cares for their plight. We, as artists, also need to be able to obtain visas, to travel to any country of our choice, without disdain and fear thrown upon us at customs. My family endured countless fees and impasses traveling through Europe and Latin America during the Bush years - it was unreal; many of these fees were instigated simply because of Bush's reputation. Artists cannot afford this socially, artistically, and financially. We cannot go back to that - and the global perception of Obama is, already, clearly a more positive situation than the perception of Romney, which failed miserably during his many Olympic gaffes in London. 

Please vote. Please prove to your non-artist peers and your culture as a whole that we are relevant members of society, and please help prove to your government that we have a voice and a purpose in our nation than must be recognized and support but all possible forces. The future of classical music will go nowhere if the future of art is outsourced to countries with better funding. We have too great of a thing going on here in the good ol' U S of A to slash it entirely. 

So, that's my two cents. You might not agree with me, but, in four years, please don't make me say I told you so.

Oh, also: if you are a woman, artist or not, keep in mind that Romney sees you as a resume in a binder, and Paul Ryan sees you as a baby-incubator.

(Couldn't help myself).

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