The War on Art

For the past three months, a permanent Star Wars opening crawl has trudged across our vision: It is a shit show. The new Dark Side has risen. The Empire has declared war on refugees, Muslims, gays, women, people of color . . . but rebel bases hide in plain sight. They are led by fearless artists. . . . But the fight is nowhere near finished. It has been brewing for a long time, way before Trump. As reported by Vanity Fair, Nixon attempted to slice the budget of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), but Fred Rogers (Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood) testified before a Senate committee, helping prevent the budget slashing. Then, both the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) were on the chopping block by Reagan, who ended up settling for reducing both of those organizations’ budgets to half of their original size.

And, as history repeats itself, Trump is allegedly determined to completely privatize CPB (which funds PBS and NPR), and eliminate the NEA and NEH. This would be a colossal and irrefutable mistake. To destroy the NEA, for instance, would take away the grants and monetary support that go to national, state, and local organizations and artists who depend on outside funding to jumpstart projects. To privatize PBS and NPR would erase federal funding and make them completely dependent on citizen contributions to survive.

In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson ratified the NEA; fifty years later, their 2016 budgetary report states they were allotted $147.9 million, or 0.004% of the federal budget. Eighty percent of the $147.9 million—or around $118 million—was distributed as grants and awards. This barely constitutes 1% of the federal budget, but the current administration is reportedly mulling over the possibility of getting rid of the NEA because of its apparent “waste.”

This swamp drainage would only clog artistic license and hope. Art would essentially become a lost art. B.F.A. acting major Mona Moriya ‘17 who is graduating this May and moving to New York City in the fall to pursue her dreams, says “Art has been a big part of my life, it’s the reason I get out of bed in the morning. It keeps me feeling alive.”

Like so many other artists, Moriya fears the repercussions of Trump’s policies.

“My concerns are that the current president will cut all funding to the arts, making it difficult for many people, including those from underprivileged backgrounds, to have access to art.”

Moriya’s comment is on the pulse. According to the NEA’s website, “forty  percent of NEA-supported activities take place in high-poverty neighborhoods” and “thirty-three percent of NEA grants serve low-income audiences.”

Moriya is hoping that post-graduation she can propel opportunities for people of color whether on stage, backstage, or playwriting. At Emerson College, Moriya’s credits include The House of Bernarda Alba, Richard III, Lizzie Stranton (Emerson Stage), For Colored Girls… (Flawless Brown), and the upcoming Uncle Vanya (Emerson Shakespeare Society).

Speaking of Flawless Brown, documentary production major Lissa Deonarain is the current president with a mission of always speaking “your personal truth.”

Flawless is a collaborative effort of exploration. It is the only artistic organization at Emerson College that gives an outlet specifically to students of color. It has branched out since its inception to four departments: Flawless Stage (performing arts), Flawless Pictures (visual and media arts), Flawless Writes (writing and publishing), and Flawless Promotions (marketing). Its flagship campus is in Boston, but it also has a chapter at Emerson Los Angeles.

“I really want each woman in the organization to put themselves into their art, in whatever form that may be,” Deonarain says. “Women of color have been silenced, yet have remained hyper-visible for so long. I want the women of Flawless to be able to own their voice, own their space, own their story, and make art that speaks to those things. It's time to have our voices respected and acknowledged. I think now more than ever [it is important] to make our work as direct, expressive and truthful as possible.”

In terms of the Trump administration, Deonarain worries about censorship and accessibility. “It's scary to think about,” Deonarain says, “but I truly think that if the media and governmental departments are already being silenced and discredited, who knows what that could mean for art, especially political art. As a woman of color, your art is always seen as political, so we are always affected. I also worry about the government cutting art programs in schools. That's how I was exposed to the different forms of art I love now, I don't want to see that taken away from the next generation.”

Public schools especially depend on art programs, and when making budget cuts, it has almost become a cliche to see art, music, and theater programs removed from curriculums. Not everyone is born an artist; but art provides a safe space and the tools to form a culture. A culture devoid of art is not a culture at all, it’s more like the dull world of Blade Runner or the prophetic bedlam of It Can’t Happen Here.

Mexican-American Writing, Literature, and Publishing major, Anamaria Falcone was recently inspired by the Academy Award-nominated film Moonlight and the election. Falcone reveals, “My whole life I’ve been stuck in the middle as a third generation Mexican-American, which can bluntly be summarized as being too ‘white’ to fit in with other Mexican-Americans, Latinos, Hispanics, but too ‘brown’ to be considered a true equal in white societies.” She continues, “It’s a very odd place to be . . . but that oddly enough doesn’t bother me as much as the pity I’ve seemed to have gotten from white people. I don’t like people apologizing ‘on behalf of all white people’ or people who feel a need to tell me that they’re using their ‘privilege’ to help people like me—I didn’t ask for that.”

Battling themes of identity and belonging, Falcone desires to one day be a screenwriter so she can write a film about a person torn and ostracized by two communities, very much like her own personal story. While weary of a dystopia, Falcone affirms that, “art, like the people, cannot and will not be silenced.”

No we will not.

Photo by: Hana Antrim

LivingLaura Cafasso