Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mrs. Gingrich III, music education and my heated Facebook exchange

I'm not sure if you've all seen it - given that you have to go to "Callista's Canvas" to find it, I would imagine not. But, the Newt Gingrich campaign has decided that they are going to trot out Mrs. Gingrich III (aka: Callista) as an advocate for the arts. In the video, Mrs. Gingrich III discusses her deep passion, as a French horn playing pianist/singer, for music education.

First, the video... then, some discussion:

Isn't that tender? It makes me feel so toasty inside. [insert eye roll here]

In the subsequent article that the Gingrich campaign has displayed proudly under the video, Amy Gardener of The Washington Post clearly denotes what a piece like this probably means... from The Washington Post:
The video will be promoted and distributed by the campaign to give voters a more intimate look at Callista Gingrich and her interests — something the campaign has wanted to do for some time...

...Campaign officials say they believe that deploying Callista Gingrich on the trail helps humanize the former speaker and move past the story of how the couple’s relationship began (as an affair, while Newt Gingrich was still married to his second wife).

Gingrich plays the French horn and the piano and sings professionally in the choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. She has been working on the two-minute video for weeks, putting it together with Gingrich Productions, the multimedia production company her husband turned over to her when he launched his presidential bid.

In the video, Gingrich laments the decline in musical education in public schools. She doesn’t offer specifics about the decline — or specific solutions. Instead, she explains the value of music in her own life as footage unfolds of children playing the piano, violin and guitar and of her playing the French horn and singing.

“Music is a lifetime gift,” she says in the video. “To eliminate music from our schools is to diminish a large part of our cultural experience. Together we can work to support music education in our nation’s schools and preserve our cultural identity.”
The fact that Mrs. Gingrich III plays the French horn, plays piano, sings and hearts music education is supposed to make Newty Newt more human? Good luck.

So, I have to come clean and tell you all a little story about how this video came to my attention. The Artistic Director of a small, regional opera company - which happens to be in a very Republican state - posted the link to this video on his Facebook wall.

Now I tried, Chickpeas ... I really did. I wanted to stay quiet and not cause a fracas but, it was to no avail. What I've included below is the exact way the conversation went down (FYI: I am not using names - although it's on his public Facebook wall.) ...
Caption for the video by Artistic Director: When is the last time you heard ANY candidate or spouse talk about music education?

Supporter #1: Come on [Artistic Director].... you can't expect NPR or most of the media to talk about this. It goes against all the "All Republicans hate the Arts" talk that's been going on for the last year and a half.

Artistic Director: That's why I posted it

Me: "Campaign officials say they believe that deploying Callista Gingrich on the trail helps humanize the former speaker and move past the story of how the couple’s relationship began (as an affair, while Newt Gingrich was still married to his second wife)." So, of course they're going to play the "Callista as champion of the arts" card. They're trying desperately to humanize an otherwise untrustworthy candidate.

Supporter #1: ...and there it is.

Me: The campaign puts a video like that up on their website and directly underneath writes*: "Campaign officials say they believe that deploying Callista Gingrich on the trail helps humanize the former speaker..." What am I supposed to think? Honestly, I don't want to hear about what she's passionate about. I want to hear what his record actually shows on the issue. If you check votesmart.org, you'll see that the one time Newt had the opportunity to vote on an amendment for the National Endowment for the Arts, he chose not to vote.
*By "directly underneath writes" I clearly meant that they cut and pasted the exact copy from the article.... I just want to be clear that I understand that the campaign did not write the bit about deploying Mrs. Gingrich III.

The conversation continued:
Artistic Director: Playing a "card" or not, it's refreshing to hear someone talk about the Arts, especially Arts education. I don't recall Michelle or Hillary doing this. In fact, the last person I heard talk about the Arts was Nancy Reagan when I was at the White House in 1986 for an opera performance there. Hmm....opera at the White House - not saxophone, not Country, not Al Green.

Supporter #1: Laura and George used to go to the opera

Me: Indeed. Opera should make a comeback at the WH. I think our best hope for that, and for arts education, is to vote for someone who supports funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, NPR and the few other sources that advocate the importance of the arts. Given the record of the GOP, I'm not thinking a conservative candidate is going to be that person.

Artistic Director: I am an avid Arts advocate and I would never vote for the NEA. Why should we let yet another bureaucracy dictate who is "worthy" of receiving support. The money belongs in the community at the grass roots level.

Artistic Director continues: BTW - our local major donors ($1million+) are dyed in the wool Republicans. They walk the talk. I have met and talked to many Arts "supporters" from the other side of the aisle, and they are very good at paying lip service, but not paying the bills. Sorry to say James that my personal experience is in direct contrast to the picture you paint.

Artistic Director continues again: ...and they know Newt personally, not just the way the media likes to paint him.

Me: I have no doubt that your personal experience on the regional level is directly as you say it is - consider yourself lucky. In discussing a presidential candidate, I'm speaking on a national level. Many places in our country are not brimming with donors who need the tax incentives that giving to a non-profit - such as your company - provides. That's why I support the grants and other initiatives for which the NEA provides funding. It can't always be about the politics of our backyards.

Artistic Director: You forget that [my wife] and I have lived and worked internationally for over thirty years. We did not go from the cocoon of [
the major state university that I attended] to the wilds of Manhattan, settling into that very myopic and left-leaning community. We have seen the world, not just read about it. We have worked in cultures where the Arts matter - the Middle East, Canada, Europe and all of the major US cities. There is nothing "regional" about our experience. The Arts matter there because the culture demands it, not because it is State supported. Our donors did not give us dollars because of "tax incentives", but rather because they believe in the Arts and feel the responsibility to give back. It's the same reason they go to the soup kitchens to feed the poor every day. The same "tax incentives" are available to our Democratic friends, but the attitude always seems to be - "Let someone else do it." - like the NEA. Sorry, but this kind of ideology just doesn't work in life. It looks good in print,it sounds good at parties, it makes everyone feel good when they talk this way, but in realty it takes individuals, not organizations, not government agencies, not groups of any kind to make a difference and I applaud Mrs. Gingrich for taking this position. I could care less about her personal matters. I don't think I need to make a list of Democrats caught with their pants down.

Me: Gracious, [Artistic Director]. I don't particularly like the personal tone you're taking - "cocoon of [the major state university that I attended] to the wilds of Manhattan ... we have seen the world, not just read about it." Wow. A lot of assumptions were incorrectly made in those sentences. In saying "regionally", I was speaking specifically about the work you're doing -right now- in [your city]. That is the experience you specifically brought up while discussing the donors that give money to your company. I was not saying a single thing about what you've done in the past, nor did I negate your previous international experience. -- Best of luck to you and your company. I hope your fundraising success continues.

Artistic Director: Not personal at all, just a fundamental difference in philosophy.

Supporter #2: I just can't stand Callista Gingrich's "hair helmet!"
Alright ... hmmm. Where do I begin? (Other than to point out the obvious Republican-style attack strategy: strike out and then, deny you ever did it. Sort of reminds me of my favorite tv commercial.)

Artistic Director posted this video of Mrs. Gingrich III with the caption: When is the last time you heard ANY candidate or spouse talk about music education? Well ... I'd like to point out that there was a candidate who ran for office not-so-long ago who discussed music education: Barack Obama on music education.

Next, I'd like to address the assertion that Manhattan is a "very myopic and left-leaning community". Myopic is defined at dictionary.com as unable or unwilling to act prudently; lacking tolerance or understanding; narrow-minded. When I think of the island of Manhattan and of New York in general, "myopic" is definitely not the first word that comes to mind. New York? Lacking tolerance or narrow-minded? Seriously?! Now, I'll give you that New York is definitely a "left-leaning community" - which is part of the reason why I enjoy living here as opposed to living in the Artistic Director's state where you can be arrested for not carrying the proper documentation... but, I digress.

Now, the National Endowment for the Arts has always been a hot-button issue - mainly because they don't always support things that fit nicely into everyone else's boxed-idea of what art should be. However, you needn't go very far into their website to find some truly wonderful things they've spent their money on. Here are some highlights...

In 2005 Michigan Opera Theater received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $40,000 to support the world premiere of Margaret Garner. Composed by Grammy-winning composer Richard Danielpour, with a libretto by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, Margaret Garner tells the true story of a fugitive slave's fight for freedom. While adding to the American opera repertoire, Margaret Garner also provided new opportunities for African-American opera singers to perform in lead roles.

In 2006 the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography applied for a Save America’s Treasures grant, a program offered jointly by the NEA and the National Park Service. The university received a $270,000 Save America’s Treasure’s grant to conserve work by one of America’s most revered photographers: Ansel Adams.

In 2007, the NEA gave an Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $20,000 to Fort Worth Opera in support of Angels in America - an opera by Hungarian composer Peter Eötvös, based on Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking 1991 play about living with AIDS during Reagan-era America.

Let's skip ahead to 2010 when a $25,000 NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant was given to Opera Theatre St. Louis’s in support of the commission of the score and libretto for a new jazz opera to be produced in partnership with Jazz St. Louis. The grant will also support a workshop and the completion of musical materials for this inter-genre performance.

Seattle-based On the Boards (OtB) has been introducing Northwestern audiences to an innovative and global array of contemporary dance, music, and theater since 1978. OtB was recently awarded an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $20,000 to support a unique range of dance performances, activities, and presentations from January-June 2011. So, the National Endowment for the Arts isn't just some "Let someone else do it." kind of organization. If you'd like to see a full list the NEA initiatives, make sure to check out NEA.gov archives.

Above and beyond all of that - there is this man (Gingrich, not Artistic Director) who resigned from congress amid being charged with ethics violations and subsequently being slapped with a $300,000 fine ... this man who was cheating on his second wife with his current wife, while bringing impeachment charges against a president for similar shenanigans ... this man who, when asked about his desire to have an "open marriage" with his second wife, blamed the "elite media" for "defending Barack Obama" instead of actually answering the question ... the list goes on and on (to say nothing about his voting record) ... I am supposed to trust that this man, Gingrich, is going to bring his party around to actually being supporters of the arts and musical education on a national level because his French horn playing pianist/singer wife is passionate about it?

Isn't the Republican Party the group that accuses the arts as being too elitist and high-brow? I think we'll probably see elephants sprout wings and fly before Gingrich comes anywhere near the arts ... unless, of course, he needs "humanizing".

In closing, a word to Artistic Director: keep supporting your Republican Party, Speaker Gingrich and Mrs. Gingrich III - but remember, you can certainly put a pretty, blond-colored bow on a pig in an effort to "humanize" it ... but, at the end of the day, it's still swine.

1 comment:

stray said...

First I want to know who laminated her head? They did an awesome job!

Second, this phrase "many schools are threatening to cut or eliminate..." Threatening? Many schools have been cutting and eliminating arts programs consistently for the last thirty years, so I don't know where she's getting this grim vision of a future that has been a clear and present reality for many for more than half her lifetime.

And if this were not true, then an NEA-supported organization like this


would never have been necessary.

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