Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato discusses Kansas and the arts ... or, lack thereof

You don't have to look very far to see that the arts in this country are suffering. Many opera companies and orchestras are drying up - so much so, in fact, that I used to keep a running list in the side bar of companies that were closing their doors. However, the list became too large.

Recently, many of us groaned in absolute disgust when we heard that the state of Kansas, in all of it's "wisdom", completely slashed the arts out of the state budget. Well, my Chickpeas... mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato, a native Kansan, isn't taking it lightly.

From the Kansas City Star:
A future without limits begins with valuing art

By JOYCE DiDONATO
Special to The Star

With one, autonomous slash of the pen, every state penny for the arts in my home of Kansas has vanished, simultaneously obliterating all matching federal funds.

This is the Sunflower State that I have proudly boasted about across the world, fearlessly defending it even in the face of harsh quizzical looks from the most skeptical of folks (“You live where?”). It’s the state of my first piano recital and choir concert. The home field of my artistic curiosity and education. The homeland that taught me to freely dream big and without limitation; one where the arts were once alive, vibrant and supported.

I’ve welcomed the assumption of being an unsolicited but mightily proud artistic ambassador for Kansas to the great cities of the world. Now, for the first time, I feel shame. Eliminating a state arts commission is an ignorant, short-sighted, fearful and unspeakably damaging act to the spirit and soul of this great state.

I’m not a politician or historian. I’m a humble opera singer, a home-grown product of an agricultural state that used to value the arts, like all great societies and cultures of the past. But my anger rivals a good ol’ western Kansas Category 5 tornado’s destructive force when I begin to think of where I’d be without an education fueled by the arts that informed my way of thinking. Or without a community theater, choir or art exhibit that gave me true solace and an emergency exit from some of the great crises in my life. Or without that musical outlet that helped me understand myself and the mystery of life a little better.

“But what merit is there in that? You can’t test it. You can’t put a value on it. Must not count for much,” critics seem to imply.

So let’s talk finances: that almighty, motivating dollar. Alex Aldrich, head of the Vermont Arts Council and the man the governor used as an example of why this cut was “good,” argues: “Finally, and perhaps most importantly, every state should invest in the arts sector simply because it makes good economic sense. One of our most conservative policy analysts looked at state and local tax revenues that flowed to state and municipal coffers from our very narrowly-defined arts sector in Vermont. Income taxes paid by artists, arts administrators and independent arts contractors reveal a total return of $19.45 million on a combined investment of $2.5 million, which includes our $500,000 (state) appropriation. This annual return on investment of 775 percent is even more astonishing since virtually all of Vermont’s state tourism dollars promote skiing, outdoor recreation, fall foliage, maple syrup, and artisanal food preparation and service, not art and culture — a circumstance which, I am happy to say, is going to change starting this summer.”

Leaving aside any cultural, artistic argument, it is simply bad business. Loss of tax revenue, loss of jobs, loss of neighborhood traffic and business should be reason enough to reinstate funding to the arts in Kansas.

President Kennedy said, “I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft.

I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”

We unquestionably need the support of the state of Kansas for the arts; financially as well as culturally.

Joyce DiDonato of Kansas City is an international opera star and a Prairie Village native. She has performed in top international concert and opera houses and is the winner of many honors, including the Beverly Sills Award from the Metropolitan Opera, the Echo Klassics 2010 Female Singer of the Year and the 2010 Gramophone Artist of the Year.
Thank you, Miss Joyce!

Make sure to follow Joyce DiDonato on Twitter @JoyceDiDonato.

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