Today I received a letter from the director of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts stating that the grants for artists were to be discontinued this year. The members of the arts council, a bunch of rich bozos and wives of rich bozos who fancy themselves “cultural”, voted to end grants to artists. This is after artists – this includes playwrights – were assured in emails last summer that the budget cuts only meant that each discipline would now be eligible in a three-year application cycle, rather than a 2-year cycle as was previously in place. Artists were encouraged, courted even, to apply.
The costs of applying are worth noting. As a playwright, I had to submit 4 copies of a script, 4 CDs of the music that went with it, and ship them to Maryland where the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation administers the grants. Everything else was submitted electronically – application, resume, artists statement – and this process was touted as the new, up-to-date system that made the process easier for administrators and judging panels. So, it probably cost me about $40. You can bet the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation is getting paid for receiving the materials, which are, presumably going into the trash unless one included a self-addressed stamped envelope. (I did not. Who wants a script, or 4, back after those mutts have had their paws all over it?)
Now, let me make my position clear. Based on my personal experience and observations, I think Pennsylvania has no business underwriting any kind of arts. (I will explain why a little further on.) However, since the money was there, I applied. Why not? The script and music had already been favorably reviewed in a Manhattan production and that’s one of the things I do – apply for grants. I’ve even received a couple of small grants over the years. $1500 here, $500 there. It came in handy and was always a pleasant surprise. However, I’ve never received a dime in Pennsylvania. Interestingly enough, every project that was turned down in PA went on to some sort of success or acclaim elsewhere.
Ten years ago, when I first moved to my present abode from Miami, Florida, I was returning to the state after I got downsized out at the Miami Herald Sunday magazine. We moved to a different part of the state from where we’d lived previous to Miami. I was the new kid in town, so to speak, and it wasn’t all that long since one of my plays had been picked up and adapted as a General Motors Mark of Excellence production for television. I met a few people here, among them a woman who claimed to be a producer and casting agent. She asked if she could see a copy of the script for Avenue Z Afternoon, the play that I’d adapted for TV. The woman was also the secretary for the local arts council, which receives its funding from the state. ( I was unaware of this when I gave her the script.)
I forgot about the “submission” until, almost a year later, a neighbor congratulated me for getting a production grant. He’d read about it in the local daily, the Pocono Record, a rag I’ve since come to regard as about as corrupt as anyone can imagine an American newspaper to be. Apparently the grant was being administered by the Pocono Arts Council. I called the council office and inquired as to what was going on. I was told the grant had been awarded to the woman who had asked to read my script and I was told to contact her directly.
I did and she told me she’d forgotten to tell me. She said she wanted to get together with me and talk about the “reading”. I asked what portion of the grant money -- $1500, I’d learned -- was going to be apportioned to me. None of it, I was told. It was all for “production” – production of a staged reading that her husband, who I subsequently learned is a produce worker in a local supermarket, was going to direct. I have nothing against bad puns, unless they are being used in the course of ripping me off. I said she had no authorization to produce my play, to use it to raise money, to hire her husband as director. Her response was, and I remember it well because I heard it repeatedly from other bad actors in this story, “You just don’t understand how things work around here.”
The same words, almost verbatim, are what I was told by the director of Pocono Arts Council. Likewise, when I wrote a letter to the editor of the Pocono Record, the editorial page editor told me the same thing when she said that this wasn’t a matter for a letter. A reporter was then assigned to interview me about the goings on with my script, and after two weeks and no story appeared, I called and she told me the same thing. “You just don’t understand how things work around here.”
The Pocono Record was the big local cheerleader at roughly the same time for The Mountain Laurel Center for the Performing Arts, one of the biggest arts rip offs I’ve ever heard of anywhere, which was engineered and executed by Tom Ridge, former PA governor and former Homeland Security Director under George Bush, and by his successor, current governor and uber fat cat in the Democratic party Ed Rendell. $30 million taxpayer dollars went into building this white elephant. In the course of building it more than 600 publicly owned pristine, wild acres were turned over to private developers, for a fraction of its actual worth. A landmark on the National Register of Historic Sites – the summer camp for the New York chapter of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union -- was obliterated. The Mountain Laurel Center's only known current use is to house the graduation ceremonies of a nearby high school, when it rains on graduation day.
I got a further eye-opener of how things worked locally when the Pocono Record became a de facto political party and got the husband of the editorial page editor elected to a million dollar judgeship (10 year post X $100,000 plus salary). Reporters and editors worked the polls on Election Day, and the slant against other candidates was blatant throughout the campaign. (I do have to say that he was the best candidate in the field, which says even more about Pennsylvania politics, I suppose.)
The Pennsylvania Arts Council should be disbanded and its funding cut off entirely. Instead, the political appointees – all friends and supporters of Rendell and his wife --- get to continue on in their bragging rights positions. They voted not only to de-fund artists, but to continue to fund the salaries of arts administrators at various arts institutions around the state. In other words, their pet projects where their children and the children of their friends run the show – who, after all, but the untalented scions of the rich can afford to get degrees in the field of arts admin.
Rendell is a pugnacious politician. You’ll often see Chris Matthews licking between the governor’s legs on the aptly named “Hardball.” Rendell is about as openly crooked as one can be in political office without getting indicted. Maybe, someday, he will be indicted. This year, for just one example, Rendell gave – as in a grant -- $37 million dollars to a department store chain owned by one of his big supporters. Gave, not loaned. On virtually the same day he cancelled the state governor’s school, a program that allows talented youth in the state to take a summer course on par with the expensive programs that the children of the rich take, at substantial cost, to beef up their resumes to get into college. Rendell, like most elected corporate lackeys at the state and national level in this country, is carrying out the policies of class warfare on behalf of corporations and the rich against the middle and lower classes.
In 2010, a revolution could begin in Pennsylvania. Electric companies in the state have been granted the right to raise rates by 40% per cent – yes, forty percent – in January. This is going to happen during the worst economic downturn in recent history. Old folks and the unemployed, already strapped, are going to really be pummeled by electric companies that were deregulated under Ridge. Where I live, while it is a place of great natural beauty, is suffering some of the highest numbers of foreclosures in the country already. Homelessness is rampant. Hungry children attend classes at local schools after spending their nights sleeping in cars. NOTHING is being done by government to help these people.
There is unmitigated class warfare being waged by corporations and the wealthy, against everyone else. I hope that when the revolution comes, it is nonviolent. Then, I will surely be part of it. Not because I am personally hurting but because it is the right thing to do. Nonviolent overthrow of the status quo, confiscation of the ill-gotten wealth of the upper class, and the establishment of a democratic socialist state must be the way of the future. The alternative, as it is being played out, is repression of the many for the benefit of the few.