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Calling all Medicis! 

Ezra Pound would be proud: Sure, the poor have gotten poorer, but the rich have also gotten richer, and the arts may be all the better for it. Huh?

As Paul Krugman noted in a recent New York Times Magazine article, the average annual compensation of the top 100 C.E.O.s is now more than 1,000 times the pay of ordinary workers. Surprise! There isn't so much middle in the middle-class anymore.

So it's back to the cold-blooded-old-gold-times of the robber barons. Add to that the fact that we're in a general economic dung heap (Got Health Insurance?), that Colorado now looks to be coming in dead last in state funding for the arts, and that the city of Colorado Springs looks to be cutting the last threads of funding to a number of local arts and culture organizations, and the general prognosis for the arts is about as rosy as a lump of coal.

Oh, and let's not forget that President Bush intends to nominate Dana Gioia, to be the next chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. (Maybe you saw him when he visited Colorado College in September.) While the NEA's annual budget has made a fairly insignificant comeback to around $115 million after its 1992 beheading from $176 million to $98 million, Mr. Gioia should be a redundant nail in the coffin of an already sterilized government arts administration.

Just to give you one howling example of Mr. Gioia's "expertise," he has publicly stated that his hometown of Los Angeles "is perhaps the only great city in the world that has not yet produced a great poet, poets who capture the spirit of a place."

Wow. Hey, Gioia, ever heard of Charles Bukowski? You know, the poet and novelist Charles Bukowski who lived in LA and even after his death sells over a million copies of his books in 15 different languages every year? It's hard to believe that Dana Gioia -- a man who's most famous for an essay called "Can Poetry Matter?" that criticizes the culture of academic poets -- wouldn't know about the least academic and best-selling poet of the 20th century who's from LA! He must've been too busy managing the Kool-Aid account while he worked at General Foods. But hopefully Mr. Gioia will bring his wacky, wild, Kool-Aid style along with him when he takes over at the NEA.

So how is all of this good for the arts? I have no idea. But from somewhere deep in the counter-intuitive sludge that is Colorado, money for the arts (quite a bit of it private) is bubbling up like black gold on the Beverly Hillbillies. At least it seems that way.

Consider these numbers recently released by the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts: 9.1 million people participated in arts and cultural events last year, pumping $435 million dollars into the Denver economy. This is compared to 5.3 million who attended sporting events and 7.5 million who visited Front Range ski resorts.

While we have no such numbers for the Springs (nor do we have a Science and Cultural Facilities District tax to publicly fund the arts), consider the following indicators of a recent local culture boom:

1) Somehow, someway, the Colorado Springs Conservatory came up with the money to buy the Smokebrush Theater from Kat Tudor.

2) The Rocky Mountain Performing Arts Center (RMPAC) got a $1 million land donation and is now talking with several investors who may help them gel the deal.

3) While UCCS is losing somewhere between $2.8 million and $4.2 million in funding this year, it's also actively enhancing its cultural resources by soliciting private funds to renovate a new theater space for TheatreWorks and the long-dormant Heller Estate (more on this later).

4) The heirs of hundreds of thousands of dollars of film equipment bequeathed by the UCSC, The International Experimental Film Festival (TIE) also receives some of its largest donations from anonymous conservative Christians!

5) While we don't have exact figures, sources tell us that investment in 32 Bleu, Colorado Springs' newest night club and restaurant, went well beyond the million mark.

And this is just to name a few. Sure, Ezra Pound was confused when he lionized Mussolini as a potential revivalist of the Italian Medici Dynasty (some of the greatest arts and sciences patrons in Western history), but his belief that the greatest cultural achievements could only be achieved through private patronage just might be particularly true, for better or worse, in Colorado Springs. Calling all Medicis!

P.S.: The Beidleman Environmental Center will stay open with funds culled from the Colorado Springs Utilities. The children won!

--nblack@csindy.com

  • Could the end of public funding for the arts be a good thing?

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