Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nightmares of the Dream City: Why a Gift to the Arts is More Important Than Ever

O, but I seek and care!
- Theodore Roethke

By Chas Libretto

There's something inherently deranged about starting a nonprofit in the midst of the worst economic downturn since The Great Depression. One is often told that this is a “reset,” a return to simpler times, where we'll spend what we have, and no more, that the damn-the-torpedoes, no-holds-barred Credit Card-fueled spending craze will be a bizarre footnote in the annals of American history. So, with a tightening of belts, and a more protective grip around wallets, and with everyone feeling a little less willing to throw even the money they do have around, Psittacus Productions begins a campaign to procure capital for operating expenses and to fund specific projects.

But drastic times call for drastic measures, etc. etc. Feeling that a full summer schedule's programming, and a staggering amount of other irons in many other fires is not enough to fill our time, we've also incorporated into our mission a grand plan to bring arts education to the underserved and troubled Los Angeles Unified School District. Because, aside from the discomfort and tragedy the Recession has brought to working people, it also threatens the very future of the next generation, as the public schools in this city debate a proposal to eliminate all elementary school art teachers by the end of 2012.

Art teachers! In this, a city whose major export has been popular art, and whose great “wealth came principally from creative fantasies,” as author Michael Moorcock stated in a letter to J.G. Ballard. Aside from robbing the next generation of future avenues, it threatens to rob the soul of Los Angeles herself. And it threatens to murder what has become an endangered art to begin with. As Steven Leigh Morris reported in the April issue of Los Angeles Weekly, the NEA recently reported that arts attendance in the US has hit a new low, with only 34% attending an arts event once a week, down from 39% in 2002.

Moorcock told Ballard “Los Angeles has achieved the status of a mythological city, carrying a cargo of romantic dreams at least as great and various as Rome's or London's,” and he was correct, but it's a city that's now at a crossroads. More and more, it ships its major productions to Vancouver, and Atlanta, and Australia, and prostitutes its identity and purpose. Cynics would say this isn't terribly different than it's ever been, but I'd argue that the day Los Angeles washes its hands of any responsibility as a guardian of it's childrens' futures, is the day it loses its humanity completely. It's the day it actually becomes the place Nathaniel West cynically paints in “Day of the Locust” and that W.H. Auden calls “a Kingdom of Hell whose ruler is not so much a father of lies as a father of wishes.”

Hollywood is still and will always be a magnet for idealists and artists, who come here with a dream, for better or for worse. But in reaction to the red marks on its budgets, it threatens to smother that dream with a pillow in the middle of the night.

So, not to be too grandiose, we at Psittacus Productions feel we have a rather important mission to fulfill. It's one we didn't really expect to find when we decided to come out here, but it's one that feels, to us, like a better reason to get up in the morning than to go audition for a pharmaceutical commercial. If a workshop demonstrates the brilliance of Shakespeare to a young student in East LA, and creates in him or her a lifelong love and desire to patronize or perform in the arts, then we've done something.

Morris, in his LA Weekly manifesto concludes that “fighting for the arts is fighting for our humanity, and fighting for our humanity is fighting for our lives…I can't think of a more trenchant reason to be producing theater in the 21st century.”

We cordially invite you to be a part of this mission. As a 501c3-pending organization, your gift is tax-deductible, and will enable us to turn these plans into reality. Checks or money orders may be sent to:

Los Angeles, CA 90042

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