Tonight at Bricolage, we are hosting a reading of ’44 Plays for 44 Presidents’ as part of a nation-wide festival bringing a humorous and historical perspective of the executive office to Election Eve. Meanwhile across town at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, ‘American Idols’ by John Moran presents tongue-in-cheek busts (with glass heads) of all the presidents, and has been extended through Inauguration Day. These two artworks – one verbal, one visual – form an opportunity for a birds-eye, long-range view of the office of President of the United States. I must admit, for me, they are a welcome breath of fresh air.
Over the weekend I heard a radio interview with Oskar Eustis, the executive director of the Public Theatre in Manhattan, about how some Uptown theatres had, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, offered to share or donate rehearsal space and hours to the Public. That moved me. We can all relate, I’m sure, to needing rehearsal or studio space, and while I know there were, and still are, much more immediate needs (shelter, food, water, and so on), I was struck by the generosity of that act, and by the clarity of purpose. The show must go on. The art must continue. E pluribus unum.
At times I wish I lived in Europe, where the responsibility that the government has to art & culture (and vice versa) is more intimate and direct – but hearing that about the Public, and my own experiences of sharing time, space, resources of all kinds across different art forms reminds me that there is also value in us taking care of ourselves. There is, absolutely, a huge value to art and arts organizations receiving support of all kinds, public and private, and a huge value to artists and arts organizations being free to make the art they need to make. Depending on your politics, you could argue that more or less government spending on the arts makes sense – and that is one of the elements to keep in mind when we vote tomorrow.
The fact that we can vote – the fact that the vote is available to us, no matter what kind of art we make, who it provokes or scares, who it lampoons or profanes – is nothing to take for granted or wear lightly. We can all think of artists past and present who did not and do not possess that privilege. It is tempting to think of voting as only a political act, but I would argue that in this moment in our history – the history we can witness tonight through words or til January through – it is also an artistic act. We are citizens in a democracy. E pluribus unum.