Sunday, August 7, 2011

Trickling Down My Way

An article last week in the New York Times discussed the effect that state arts funding is having on organizations all over the country.  Michael M. Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington was quoted as saying, 
When any form of government funding is cut, the organizations that tend to get hit the most are rural, organizations of color, avant-garde institutions — those that have a harder time raising individual and corporate money.
Although I live just a few hours outside of New York City, I live in one of those poor (classified as Appalachia) counties.   This weekend I went to two different events that made real the trickle-down power of arts funding.  On Friday night, we drove just a few miles to Franklin, NY (population 1735)  to see the Mettawee River Theater Company perform outdoors, underneath a clear sky and moon ("not quite a half-moon" said the little girl sitting next to me). The event was sponsored by the Franklin Stage Company, an organization founded on the principle that, "great theater should always be accessible to all."   As the sun set and the sky darkened, the hillside was filled with all kinds of people--long-time locals,  newcomers, kids, adults, seniors, teenagers--who were all swept into the traditional northern Japanese folk tales, told through masks, puppets, song and spoken word.

The next night, in the rain, we headed a bit further afield, down to New Kingston, NY (population 354) for the New Kingston Film Festival. where, despite the drizzle and some recalcitrant technology,  we watched shorts and documentaries from around the world on a big blow-up screen, parked in our cars in a modern day drive-in movie. From a coming-of-age story in Spain to windpower battles in the next town over,  the filmmakers brought many ideas of place and community to this very small place.
Both events are labors of love--and both were, wonderfully, free! It's easy to think about the arts in New York State as the Metropolitan Opera and the Museum of Modern Art.  For decades, the New York State Council on the Arts has supported projects like these through its Decentralization Grant program.   Maybe these events would have been possible without the small amount of grant funding they received,  but maybe they wouldn't;  very possibly the grant funding helped leverage other funding and the support, granted by a panel of  county residents, (and administered by the Roxbury Arts Group)  made sure that my neighbors and I, living in the beautiful Catskill mountains,  have chances to look beyond our own front doors and our everyday lives. 

Thanks to the passionate organizers of this weekend's events,  to NYSCA for its funding, and for New York's taxpayers, who make NYSCA possible.   Remember the field full of cars, watching a story of Spain, or a child's excited gasp as the dragon puppet emerges from the lake, when you hear that the arts don't matter, that we can't afford them.  We can and we should.

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