20181113 3rd Floor to 2nd Floor

After editing all day for OSF, Vera invited Zihua and I to show each other our work in the Gemeinshaftraum. The proposition reminded me of graduate school critiques, of which I was not and still am not very fond. Vera began by showing us her abstract videos, the first, “Panoramic Panic Body” (2014, 10 minutes), was comprised of several botanical elements, some macro and and some at recognizable scale, trading places in the center of the screen, woven between negative shots of trees. An unpredictable looping pattern of the elements brought the attention to the mid and background texture elements, while asynchronous sound stitched the video together.

I watched Vera's work from the perspective of the celluloid film art work that was popular in the Bay Area scene. I asked her outright where the inspiration and historical relationship to that style of film making had come from and she said that Freiburg had had a strong experimental film period in the 1970s, those film makers were now professor where she had studied. In relation to the Bay Area movement (of which still held some parts of SF in a experimental stranglehold), experimental cinema's materiality, fascination with Eastern ideology, e.g. Youngblood's attempt at framing video art as a transcendental tool:

"When we say expanded cinema we actually mean expanded consciousness." [1]

I was a little confused and surprised of how or why German film makers would propagate abstract film art. Why would German experimental film makers be theoretically inclined to scratch celluloid if they weren't reading Marshall McLuhan? What use are hypnotic moving images if mental numbing toward escaping one’s consciousness isn’t the point?

Practically, I wondered how these artists in Germany got their hands on film equipment and whether there were industries there that sold off old gear to locals, in the way described the television industry in NYC sold inadvertently equipped the art film makers who founded Anthology Film Archives, the Film-makers Cooperative and the influence that trickled upstate to Binghamton and later Alfred, NY. [2][3]

Getting at the genealogy of thought, with the discursive distinction of German theory on moving images, e.g. the Frankfurt School, more preoccupied with representation and social construction through images, i.e. Cultural Studies, than focusing on the medium of film, light and visual perception, i.e. what would become Media Studies, why would there be a Brakhage-esqe scene in Freiburg? The most logical answer is that art, art styles, art practices and artists travel, even if the theory that shaped it is left in its country of origin. Prior to the globalized world, or the networked world of the Internet, art existed in the routes of transit and it's for this reason that one encounters local artists in remote regions who are working in a style that may have never had any roots in that place.

Zihua showed us a video of a performance of his composition "remnants present," performed by the percussionist Noam Bierstone. [4][5] During the 13 minute piece, three objects–a large gong, a pan and a wooden board–hang in front of Bierstone, who is making scratching and tapping sounds using a metal wire whisk, and scratching a magnetic across the metal, which is attracting a magnetic on the other side, which could be seen moving while the scratching sound was being made. The percussionist and scenery were darkly lit by a side light. I was be I looked at Zihua during this video and he had his eyes closed. My first thought was the composition could be perfect for a film score.

I attempted to show my SGT STAR work, but the wifi didn’t work in the Gemeinshaftraum, so it was assigned as homework. [5]

[1] "Expanded Cinema," Gene Youngblood, P. Dutton & Co., Inc., New York 1970

[2] Film-makers' Cooperative

[3] "Binghamton Babylon: Voices from the Cinema Department, 1967-1977," Scott M. MacDonald, SUNY Press, 2015

[4] Zihua Tan, remnants present / Noam Bierstone



20181111 Puntigamer to Dom im Berg

I went out to explore the city. Exploring an area that is already inhabited is essentially getting lost and locating oneself. Seeing things that many people have seen before, but vibrate with novelty to your eyes.

The southeast side of the city of Graz becomes Euro-suburban very fast: houses, some farm plots, automotive-dependent with islands of megastructures, inconsistent sidewalks, fences and driveways. It's quaint in size and aesthetic. It's tidy. It's sparsely populated by structures and I saw just enough people to not notice that it was abandoned.

Puch museum.jpg

I visited the Puch Museum, which is essentially a large garage of the myriad of the Puch products–mopeds, trucks, cars, bicycles–jammed into the center of the space, with little narrative consideration of how visitors actually see the works. This was a collector's museum, not a curator's museum. When Hitler annexed Austria, industry such as Puch was a primary motivation. That may explain the absence of narrative. Just imagine the third wall sign: "And here is when we made Nazi trucks." Not exactly a heart warmer. I was the only visitor, so maybe I was over-thinking the institution's rationale to obscure their past. The sole attendant occupied himself by spray painting something at the far north end of the garage. The fumes made their way to the middle of the garage around the time I decided to leave.

I stopped by Schaumbad to look at Eva's studio as a possible site for interviewing Steve Weiss or Martin and Romana. The studio was filled with layers of art projects, research, production and life. It was hard to believe that Eva had been there less than a decade. A large light with the word "over" sat perfectly in the corner. From what I'd gathered about the protest against the Murkraftwerk, "over" continued to bitterly loom over Romana and Martin.

I made haste to another art event. The event in the Schlossberg was described to me as an artist who was going to bring together a descendant of the Archduke Ferdinand and the descendant of the Archduke's assassin, Gavrilo Princip, for a handshake. The location was a room in the Dom im Berg, a mountain that was hollowed out to serve as a bomb shelter during World War I. It was too fitting, too perfect to not attend.

The event began with trio band playing Serbian music followed by other musicians playing a royal Habsburg melody.The stage was set with the Austrian musicians stage left and the Serbian musicians stage right. In the center were two black leather, Scandi-chic couches. Igor F. Petković, the artist, sat in the center. After the music conclude he gave a long, contextualizing speech, of which I could only understand him mentioning the two songs, and made several references to "Kultur." It felt almost like he was giving a benediction of the music. He then invited to interlocutors on stage to discuss Kultur, immigration and how Central Europe is a mixing pot of cultures. By the time the third person had answered a question, it began to feel like a talk show. There was so much talking, lecturing, that I wondered how this would be different as an "art event" in the U.S., or even if this was billed as an art event. Was this the performance? What introduction did such a symbolically-loaded gesture need? Austrian art events, I would learn, are usually predicated with a long, verbal introduction.

Part of the event included the ceremonial recognition of winners of the The Alfred Fried Photography Award 2018, which had a theme of "What does peace look like?" The presenter, Lois Lammherhuber expounded on the topic of photography and peace at length, before a ceremonial lecturer, spot lit, reading from a clear acrylic podium, announced the winner with pomp. The ceremony went on and on and I was running out abstract footage to film; I had thought the event may be visually interesting. Ultimately, I couldn't take it anymore. I had to leave before seeing what I thought would be money shot–the descendants shaking hands.

More interesting than the symbolic act was the intentional production of history-making–as opposed to placemaking, or (thing)making–which may be indicative of the kulturzeitgeist. There is so much talk about "Europe" here, which I've taken as a juxtaposition or affront to what is "Austrian," given the Chancellor's politicking. Compounded with Brexit, Hungary, Poland, the perpetual and near concern of Russia, Crimea, and the Ukraine, striving for a critical distance, a point from which this whole messy–in its wholeness and messiness–can be seen is comforting. As the liberal left–artists–contend against the populist (mostly non-creatives)–the importance of holding onto the production of history increases. The creation or recreation of historical events, the mode of producing history–texts, online archives, photos, video and social media can be a strategy to not only moralize about a historical past, but situate a historical present and predict a historic future. History is written by hands trembling to be shook by the infirm memory of an Alzheimer future.

20181108 Schaumbad to Künstlerhaus

Iris offered to lead a tour through the Districts of Puntigam, Graz-Neuhart and Gries. Schaumbad is located on Puchstraße, named after Johann Puch's manufacturing company, most well-known in the U.S. for the Puch Maxi mopeds that are popular for existing in a legal gray zone between human-powered and motor-powered conveyances, which required different licenses and road usage. The southern neighborhood was the original industrial center, located south of the city it should be noted that pollution generated from this area and likely disposed into the Mur would impact towns downstream in souther Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, etc., on the tribulation to the Drava and Danube.

The industrial past and present are evident. Near Schaumbad are distributors of industrial material, landscaping supplies, kitchen decoration, but also a few recycling companies, which can be thought of as the next industrial revolution: once it's less expensive to repurpose than manufacture from raw material.

Walking up Puchstraße we saw the monuments to an industrial past: the towers of concrete about ten stories high, windows broken and doors missing. The towers are covered in solar panels, which are hung so well that they appear to be part of the original building design. On the ground floor a modest revival is underway in the form of a rock climbing gym, Crossfit studio and squash court. Around the back is a literary space and a new building to house artists. Graffiti and murals fill in where there aren't solar panels

Iris walking Tour-9.jpg

We saw Caritas Ressidorf, a mens homeless shelter before turning down Auf der Tändelwiese to see Dr. Schlossar-Park where the Grazer artist Hartmut Skerbisch built a garden labyrinth. The garden was not in the best shape; autumn has not treated it well and most of the phytowalls were in decay. But a gesture of the city's support for local artists, as well as a sign of its lack of it changing its mind.

Iris walking Tour-11.jpg

The buildings in this area, many of which were social housing projects from the beginning of the twentieth century, form walls along the street and guard green space within the block. Other developments are rows of two and three story homes with spacious backyards.

We continued down Kapellenstraße and saw the Urnenfriedhof Graz, one of the older cemeteries in the city. Iris told us that it is very expensive to be buried there and that, unlike plots in the U.S., they are not permanently owned, but leased. When one's descendants no longer pay the lease to the plot, the body is exhumed and the plot leased to a newly dead. Cemeteries are more for the living to remember the dead, than for the dead to have company.

Turning up Payer-Weyprecht-Straße we came to Kunstgarten, a familiar cultural institution in the backyard of Irmi and Reinfrid Horn. They program film screenings, concerts, exhibitions and residencies, and maintain a botany library. Pure generosity and endurance. Reinfrid in his overalls, toiling away at the computer, and Irmi welcoming us over tea and Früchtebrot. We chatted for a few hours but the highlight of the conversation was learning of the 23 years of tension between them and their missionary neighbors. Reinfrid portrayed them as rural conservatives who moved to the city, treated their pets like farm animals and didn't appreciate culture nor community. The called the police in response to concerts, and their dogs barked at guests. The long game.

The next stop was the Graz-Karlau Prison, seated on archduke Karl II's summer hunting grounds. From the street we could see the silhouette of two people, whom I presume were inmates watching the evening traffic. The complex has a central tower with four radial arms, and an adjacent structure running parallel to the street. The grounds are walled off and decorated by public art projects on the side bordering Triester Straße. As one of the larger prisons in Austria, it was the holding cell of the mass-murder Jack Unterweger, who became the icon of prison rehabilitation after he successfully transitioned back to freedom by becoming a writer and journalist. Having used his imprisonment to craft short stories, poems, plays and an autobiography, he gained the respect and admiration of Viennese cafe intellectuals.[1] He recanted his psycho-sexual homicides, his signature works were strangulation of sex workers with their own bras. After serving his sentence, he became a minor celebrity, international journalist, but soon resumed killing, re-imprisoned and committed suicide. Terrorists and nationalist terrorist were also held, together, at Graz-Karlau.

Iris walking Tour-31.jpg

The tour brought us past a slaughterhouse, just across the street from a Tierkorper Sammelstelle, or dead pet depository. It was not clear which site was the origin of the foul smell.

We continued across the river over Karlaugürtel, past Peepshow, a laufhaus, and up Neuholdaugasse, when I looked up Leitnergasse and saw a large tree in the sidewalk, seemingly oversized and out of place. I realized that, due to the narrow width of the sidewalks, there are not many sidewalk trees, as one finds in some cities. Instead, the green areas are set behind buildings in the center of the block. Since many sidewalk trees have short, difficult lives due to soil compaction, pet excrement and urban activity, perhaps it's better that trees are centralized on blocks.

Tierkorper Sammelstelle.jpg

[1] "Killer Prose," Rick Atkinson, Washington Post, August 3, 1994.

20181106 Mur to Kunsthaus Graz

The light in Graz is diffuse, slightly foggy, the humidity coming up from the Mur, or densifying as the air moves up and against the mountains, is perfect for filming. It's not too bright or contrasted; it's not too dim. When the sun is blocked by clouds, a timeless, directionless state exists.

In the morning I went down to the bank of the Mur and followed a footpath to create a long shot. I had put my 5D3 on a gimbal to smooth out my ambulation. Travel videography is confronted with two problems. First, when traveling one isn't familiar with the landscape and not certain of the exact location one wants to capture. In a sense, it's this uncertainty that creates the need to travel in the first place, but logistically speaking, it makes it difficult to know what gear one should travel with, and within the trip, when one needs what gear and where. It's not always practical to carry a tripod with the open ended possibility of shooting a panning shot. And it's even less practical to carry all the gear everywhere, always.

Alternatively, it's not always possible to return to places one sees while traveling. But one wants to bring a camera along to capture the experience of discovery. The downside is that a camera without support creates video footage that is too unstable to use in most cases. A gimbal is supposed to complement a camera, and be less obtrusive for travel. 

The footage that gimbal produces is something like a floating an eye. It's smooth enough to not reference a first person perspective, but has enough movement to not feel like a tableau, or omniscient god perspective. The gimbal allows for the disembodied eye.

In the afternoon Zihua and I stopped by the Künstlerhaus Graz, to see the exhibition "Artificial Paradise?" about virtual reality. The exhibition began or ended downstairs, with a landscape painting of Johann Kniep, Ideale Landscaft mit unt4ergehender Sonne, 1806. The painting depicts a Roman soldiers watching the setting sun while a young man talks with an older man and young woman reclines on a hill. The landscape has typical elements of the Romantic period: dramatic colors, vegetation, classical architecture in ruins, waterfalls, hills and atmospheric desaturation to suggest depth. The catalogue essay on the work explains how Arcadian scenes functioned as a mode of escapism for the Renaissance aristocracy, and parallels it to contemporary modes of immersion. a period when artists of Western Europe were imagining the ruins of Greece and Rome as portals into a period where landscape existed in a harmonious relationship to ruinous cityscape.

Kniep Ideale Landscahft mit untergehender Sonne.jpg

I spent time in all of the works, but those with headsets had the advantage of recalling video games, while the works that were simply video recall cinema. The nuances between these two types of entertain become more evident when both media attempt to create an aesthetic experience.

In video games, there is always an initial comparative assessment: how "good" (real, better) does this look compared to other technologies. The march toward re-creating a realistic world within the context of a closed game scenario has been the success of the video game industry, while it seems that making life into a game would be the shorter, more elegant technology to adapt to the already-realistic world in which we live. But that territory is occupied by sports, athletes, and the physical. 

Cinema is mistakenly thought of as moving images that convey information. But the appeal of cinema is widely the conveyance of emotions. Cinema has images, but we don't want them exclusively. Very few people want to just watch the moving images of a place. That would be like watching a security camera. Even after solving the variable of where to place the camera–in a paradise beach, gorgeous landscape, or girls locker room–we quickly bore of a representation of a place. It’s the job of narrative through which we frequently see personalities and desires, power dynamics and situations, and this is usually told through humans who play the characters. We vicariously put ourselves in situations; we see in stories, and we garner a liking or disliking to personalities, just as we do in real life; and we dislike movies that have characters that we feel neither liking nor disliking for, often more than performed personalities that we hate. In virtual reality, there may not be a character, just a disembodied camera that is located where your own embodied eyes are. The landscape is supposed to be a place you inhabit. In the case of both forms at Künstlerhaus, these works are "interesting" but not engaging; they feel systematic and once the pattern becomes clear, we are left only to appreciate the accuracy of the representation of the objects in this virtual realm, which fall short. 

The element of immersion was the supposed innovative and decisive characteristic of the artworks, and the technology used, which encompassed a greater visual field, often by putting on a headpiece that obstructs seeing anything except the video content.

Paul Chan's video in this exhibition notably references video games through pixelated characters who are fucking and killing in loops. The curatorial statement refers to Chan’s borrowing from Charles Fourier and Henry Darger, but Salò comes to mind, though without the reverberation to anything cautionary, again lacking narrative or evoking any connection to character. The power of Salò is not the graphic content, but the power structure exposed through the narrative, which makes the graphic content not only visceral but suggests its possibility. 

The absence of narrative has been a defining element of video art. The rejection of the toolset that facilitates the emotional experience that is central to cinema. It's why people describe video art as something that people don't really "like" or want to watch, but appreciate it on the grounds that it is an art form. The lack of an obligation to the audience to connect to the content on an emotional level has afforded artists to create a wider variety of video content, but also relegated the content to a small audience compared to cinema, and made video artists impoverished compared to their cinematic counterparts. The audience's eye, if looking through a camera lens, is even more disembodied if no body is in the audience. 

Steve R. McQueen is a rare example of visual artist that made video art and now works in the world of narrative cinema. His adaptation of 12 Years a Slave can be used as a rebuttal to the claim of immersive video: we inhabited the horror and pain of Patsey being whipped for going to get soap not because a headset inhibits us looking away, but because Edwin makes Solomon punish her, because of Mistress Epps is overflowing with jealousy. Our esophagus shortens, our stomach twists around our heart at the sound of each popping whip because the injustice is palpable; we want to look away but we know we would see only our own world, a sphere of injustice in which we are not only immersed, but also complicit and collateral damage. 

The element of immersion was the supposed to be innovative and a decisive characteristic of the artworks, and the technology used. Frequently the commonality of encompassing a greater visual field by putting on a headpiece that obstructs seeing anything except the video content obstructed the most common thread in the show, which was the use of consumer technology to make art. Many works were not immersive in the visual sense–Addie Wagenknecht’s Data and Dragons refers to the physical complexity of everyday data infrastructure around us. 

Manuel Roßner’s VR work Du musst dien Leben ändern reveals large line sculptures that exist in the space. His project Float Gallery, an online virtual gallery space, is more interesting than the low-level AR piece in the show, but both explore the misnomer of virtual space, which was originally referencing storage capacity, with sculptural space.

The most out-of-place award in the show goes to Ivana Bašić Belay My Light, the Ground is Gone, courtesy the artist and Marlborough Contemporary, which doesn’t represent the artist but likely trying to include the work in shows in order to increase its historical and economic value. It’s a stunning piece, but the curatorial decision to include it is questionable.

Marc Lee’s 10.000 Moving Cities–Same but Different is an app that’s for sale for $349.99, recreates cities with images about them. I didn’t see this in the show, maybe it was over?

Harun Farocki’s works, Serious Gamer I-III, were the most interesting and critical, although I’ve seen them at MoMA years ago. Farocki focuses on the US military’s training through virtual reality games.

The exhibition missed an important lesson from the Romantic period, which was the movement away from then modern life–industrialization and urbanization–and toward a past life that were never really lived by Europeans, i.e. the Classical Age in Greece. Greek Civilization functioned as an imaginary of eternal truths, distant, aged but also a connection to the permanence of European values. The perspective of the viewer in those works is objective, what becomes the fourth wall in theatre. The eye is disembodied. We are on-lookers, but from a distance that is separated by time and space. Kniep’s figure were not 19th Century Romantics, but white Middle-Eastern time travelers from almost 2000 years before. The Romantics imagined backwards, depicting a world that could be observed. The works in Artificial Paradise locate the eye of the view within a loaded context–within the headset, within an understood social context–and all of them, even Farocki through cinema, recapitulate the dogma of consumer technologies: that transcendence is possible.

Trump Budget #1: A Critical Comparison for the NEA

Like many liberals, I’m chipping away on my home-study American political science degree; this chapter is on governmental budgets. The President introduces his “dream budget,” which can be summarized as the potentially most awkward elephant in the room, should Trump ever have to personally meet chairman Jane Chu or any other staff from the department that he zero-ed out. Trump’s using budget like a threat, a political surgical knife that reveals how deep he pierce a government, country and society, given he’s taken no Hippocratic Oath. 

So I visited to see if the NEA was still around. I was pleasantly surprised that not only did a 404 error elude me, but a considerate pop-up windowed guided me to a FAQ page, answered all my questions and hearsay about the fallout of Trump’s nightmare budget. Here I share what I learned therein with you, kind reader, and include with it my thoughts, concerns and crass conclusions that comprise my first of many diatribes on how our miserly billionaire Warmonger in Chief plans to spend our monies.

The NEA’s FAQ page begins/began with “Is the NEA closed?”

Social media has been buzzing about everything Sunburnt Combover has been proposing, particularly cutting the arts, environmental protection agency and giving all the money to infrastructure, outfrastructure (wall), war, Mar-a-Lago and Trump International. People are concerned. Infuriated is a better word. And the coveted National Endowment for the Arts strikes a sore spot in those of us Americans who look to more peaceful countries and societies that not only fund arts but communicate to the creative class that they’re valuable for their imagination (not just how well they can make a smart phone app UI), and how enjoy creative culture, museums, the arts, et al. So how has the U.S. compared to other developed countries? This 2005 report may be dated but still sheds light and is regularly referenced in how each country fairs in terms of cultural funding.

But why communicate to the creative class that they’re valued? Uh, well, for one reason is that (according to the NEA) we are one the largest labor classes in the U.S. Filmmakers, actors, graphic designer, musicians, singers, artists, fashion designer, photographers--the arts sector in the United States more than 2 million worker, according to the NEA. And on this note, the value of the NEA is frequently weighed by its distribution of funds toward creativity, but the reports it generates are equally important, particularly in looking at how the marginal disutility of labor occurs within these informal industries. There reports are usefully predictive of how people are working, spending free time, applying their education, generating money (and taxes), and where this is happening. 

So where is this cut coming from? What’s the rationale? What’s the history of controversy in NEA funding? One long-held belief is that the arts serve one (small) percent of the population. Why should tax-payer money be used for the arts, which are appreciated along class lines? The NEA’s FAQ does a great job to clarify that one of its goals and achieved missions to deliver the arts to “underserved areas...especially rural and inner-city communities.” Cutting funding to the NEA will only increase the inequity of access to the arts.

If part of a larger historical fight against the NEA, Trump’s cut is more likely a function of (religious) Conservative dominance on Capital Hill. The NEA budget has steadily increased since it’s founding in 1966, with the exception of a 40% cut in 1995 that remained until 2001. The cause of the aberration: Newt Fucking Gingrich, leader of the Republican majority during the Clinton years, who tried to kill the NEA.  (This cut was reversed in 2001 by the GWB). The Gingrich cut was strongly supported and espoused by Republican of North Carolina, Jesse Helms, (whose been lobbying the Big Guy in the sky since 2008), who was the ideology of the Religious Right incarnate. His disgust for arts funding came from a gag reflex that linked the denigration of the Judeo-Christian god to a certain faction of artists: The NEA four: Karen Finley, Tim Miller, John Fleck and Holly Hughes--performance artists funded by the NEA, who had their support rejected by the agency chair, the conservative John Frohmayer (National Endowment for the Arts v. Karen Finley), plus Mapplethorpe and Andre Serrano. (Mapplethorpe’s depictions of the gay nude, shot in dramatic glorification of the body [referencing the classical Greek nude, recalling that phrase “more Greek than the Greeks”] and Andrés Serrano’s Piss Christ explain why the Religious Right believed the arts were against their beliefs: they were, but not just by artists; much of society doesn’t align with these religious interpretations of the law.) The case seized onto an aesthetic parallel in order to censor sacrilegious art works. The preamble to the case begins:

In 1989, controversial photographs that appeared in two NEA-funded exhibits prompted public outcry over the agency’s grant-making procedures. Congress reacted to the controversy by inserting an amendment into the NEA’s 1990 reauthorization bill. The amendment became §954(d)(1), which directs the Chairperson to ensure that “artistic excellence and artistic merit are the criteria by which [grant] applications are judged, taking into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public.” 

Finley ultimately won the case and the NEA was forced disperse funds to the artists. The question was from the Left whether religious values, specifically Protestant Christian, were justifiably obstacles to tax dispersion to arts within a country that touts the separation of church and state and/or the Constitutional declaration that no religion will have governmental preference over another.  The NEA v. Finley said, ‘No.’ So rather than setting a criterion to which (Conservative) appointees could control what’s produced, they decided it was better just to cut it. That’s a summary of the culture wars, to which the left and mainstream media don't really talk about today, while the Conservative right, via hot hands Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter maintain as a placeholder for their fight against Liberals. Today, however, it’s not clear whether the Trump budget is a continuation of this religious faction against creative liberals necessarily, or just a psychopathic vendetta to build his wall, stroke his ego, or a combination of both. 

What’s strangely contradictory about Trump’s NEA budget cut is that he claims to be strong on military (offense and) defense, ostensibly to protect our country from attacks by Muslim extremists who seek to destroy our culture, i.e. Western culture, but Trump’s budget does their job for them. What’s consistent is his approach to freedom of the press, women’s rights and socially protected classes are equally contradictory. 

On a social level, the real failure to society American society to make the arts correlate with the populace is two fold: one, a failure to broaden the appreciation of art and two the failure to educate toward those to find art appreciable. That is, not only do art practitioners--artists, curators, dealers, institutional functionaries--fail to make the arts accessible to the broader society, but the society to which we hope they would bring the arts is informationally impoverished. Yet, while the arts are perceived as an exclusive past time, more people have been studying contemporary arts since the mid-20th Century than ever before. Structurally, there is an educational lapse in formative public instruction, and we are all aware of it: The Arts are the first to be cut from public curricula in what seems to be the remnants a Space Age attitude that cherishes the sciences, mathematics and history. I’m not opposed to funding any educational study and I like science. But the quick-to-cut-the-arts is delusional in the presumption that the arts are superfluous. In the decades since art education in public schools began getting nixed, we’ve seen that the attraction to better schools and institutions always include and emphasize the arts. The solution is simple: don’t EVER cut educational funding. Any argument to get cut educating should be seen as the simple failure of the predecessors to educate the opponent of education, or a personality disorder. 

The arts are important for students as well as workers. Opponents to arts funding would do well to read the Harvard Business Review’s 2008 article, The MFA is the New MBA, if they hasn’t the haven’t the patience of reading through NEA reports. Rather than teaching kids to pass tests, how about teach them how to creatively problem solve? One results in life-long bullshit artist, the other results in flexible citizens who adapt to a changing world. 

The battle for the NEA funding is a short-sighted trench warfare in what should be a larger war on which department even exist in government. We need not only the NEA, but a Department of Culture. It’s the only rational approach to not only the arts but other quasi-departments that closely parallel economies (i.e. where there are educational, practitioners, and monetary generation) and should be a formalization, represented, and overseen. Anything else, like the current or “small government” mantra is just delusional in the global reality of today. The exportation of our culture and cultural products to the rest of the world is the equivalent to capital flight. If people are creating industry it requires oversight as a liaison between the corporate and business entity and the voting citizen who exists outside that economy. By extension, it requires a line on the budget whether for that oversight or for direct funding. 

The art world is ripe for oversight. We see behavior that would be considered insider-trading on Wall Street or outright neptocracy. Haunch of Venison, which closed in 2013, owned by Christie’s during its decade tenure in New York, showed perhaps the rarified cycle between a gallery that sold works and an auction house that could control the market value of the same works. The fabrication of the value of the works that went through this cycle are nothing short of alchemy. The Hauser & Wirth (previously Schimmel) space in L.A. aims to blend a cultural institution with a for-profit-gallery model like a vertically-oriented industry. How this will impact the exchange between culture cache and monetary value is yet to be seen. And they aren’t alone in devising new financial tools. Investors are open about including the arts in your portfolio; as a global phenomenon, Le Freeport makes buying, trading, and storing your artwork easy--you don’t even have to enter the country. Situated in Singapore’s duty-free airport zone, thus “no tax is due on the artwork for as long as it is stored in the facility, though applicable taxes are due in the respective location the work eventually ends up in for display or ownership. “ 

The abuse of the culture industry of unpaid interns is an exemplary cry for oversight. Around 2010, Obama and various State’s Department’s of Labor started cracking down on this abuse unpaid laborers whose employees interpreted “intern” as “anyone who would work for free,” regardless of whether that person’s time equated to credits from an educational institution or any kind of training; some galleries had (and still have) a perpetual place for an unpaid intern and give them little or no useful skills or experience. 

But I digress. To really understand whether the NEA funding cut is justified on the grounds that it serves a selection of our society or doesn’t generate (enough revenue), we should compare it other state-sponsored past-time, activities like professional sports. The divergences are shocking. Sports teams do not receive direct federal funding, but they do receive enormous local state tax subsidies. The Brookings Institute found that just Yankee Stadium received 1.7 billion in municipal bonds from New York. These bonds don’t have taxable interest, which means the Federal government lost $431 million from those bonds, and another $61 million from private high-income bond holders. That’s just to start. What’s even more troubling is where the money that’s generated goes, and how many people benefit from the activities in the stadium. Jeffrey Dorfman states, “Governments should never finance a stadium with public money as it is simply a subsidy to rich team owners and a few businesses that stand to benefit from the events held there.

Even after a stadium is built, the buck doesn’t stop there. There’s renovations, repairs and staying state-of-the-art. The tax-burden is ongoing, and ever more expensive, while the use value is decreasing: the dozen professional games and occasional concerts don’t warrant these enormous structures to be built over acres of city. These enormous tax-subsidies for rich team owners gets pushed through in aggressive threats to take the team to another state. It’s undemocratic, and as Richard Florida points out, really an inter-state problem that requires Federal regulation

The threat to take a team elsewhere is an indirect threat to take economic growth or activity elsewhere, but according to Stanford professor of economics, Roger Noll “NFL stadiums do not generate significant local economic growth, and the incremental tax revenue is not sufficient to cover any significant financial contribution by the city.” Sports subsidies are the equivalent of just putting money in the pocket of the very rich. It’s not for the fans, nor the city, nor the neighborhood. Dorfman counters the rebuttal that the businesses around the stadium will be spurred when sports attendees come with two points: one, how much of that spending goes toward taxes and two, the money spent there comes out of a budget that would have or could have been spent elsewhere, since these are services and goods, like food and drinks, that can or would have been accessed elsewhere. So it’s not generating business, it’s concentrating business and spending, which is the same rationale to give tax subsidies to the stadium in the first place: concentrate spending on one (rich) entity. Then there’s the question of job creation as a form or economic stimulus. The occasional “gig” at a stadium, from an employee’s perspective is particularly dire; it’s unstable, temporary and deskilled and low-paying. While stadiums largely employ temporary workers, cultural institutions employ workers year round. Even when exploiting internships, the interns are a small percent of the employees at cultural institutions. 

In contrast to funding stadiums, cultural zones, workers, and institutions have been well known to revitalize areas, not only economically but socially. While the urban area around stadiums are often dead zones most of the year, cultural institutions and organizations become thriving places that attract people to live and work. Urban planners know this as the “Bilbao Effect,” referencing Frank Gehry’s revitalization of the Basque industrial city. The museum and works cost €120 million in 1997, but has attracted 19 million visitors, 70% from outside Spain. Today, the Guggenheim Bilbao now generates about €400 million every year. 

Some view the influx of creatives to a neighborhood as unmitigated gentrification, which may have a true negative impact in some situations. But between creatives who raise rent, allegedly start hipster cafes, brunch spots and bars or a stadium that draws herds of drunken tourist, gridlocking traffic, blockaded streets and gives basically nothing to the locals, a neighborhood’s choice is obvious. 

 Tashiro Kaplan, 2004

Tashiro Kaplan, 2004

In Seattle these two case studies are in close proximity. The Tashiro Kaplan building, which offers artists live/work spaces at affordable prices, revitalized the Pioneer Square area that borders the International  District. The ground floor hosts commercial, not-for-profit and artist run spaces, cafes and restaurants. It reminds me of a smaller version of New York’s Westbeth. Four blocks from the TK Building is CenturyLink Field. One of two and a half structures that replaced the dilapidating Kingdome (the Supersonics temporarily played there). CenturyLink Field, née Qwest Field, houses Microsoft founder & billionaire, Paul Allen’s Seahawks. The new field cost the public $300 million. Behind CenturyLink is Safeco Field, home of the Mariners, majority owned by John W. Stanton, a modest billionaire. Safeco cost $384.5 million dollars, levied by a food and beverage tax. That is, a tax was placed on citizens so fans could buy a $10 hotdog on picnic benches from a billionaire. Why two structures were extracted from one multi-purpose building is an inexplicable, unjustifiable boondoggle. On a city the size of Seattle, the onerous detour of funds from the plebeians to the rich is even worse than in larger cities like New York. In the 1960s the federal government tried to address this robbing the hood use of monies for stadia, but the result was today’s municipal bonds tax loop. But rather than inhibiting owners to threaten taking their teams to shinier shores, cities are forced to foot the bill or forego the prestige of having a Costco-size, plein air, sports channel TV with overpriced food and beverage for people who may otherwise just watch at home. 


Today, the two stadia function like centurion guards overlooking a post-apocalyptic scene from Dario Argento film, an urban waste land that halts the flow of the Pioneer Square knick-knacks couture shoppers, the TK artists and gallery hoppers and I-district restaurants from mingling with Georgetown artisans south of the stadia. The Berlin wall was slightly more effective in blockading human capital than the weave of freeway ramps, and the parking lots in and around the complexes. Only around Olympic constructions is less life found on Earth. Seattle missed a rare opportunity when the the Kingdome was disintegrating in the 1990s: They should have learned from Rome. Let the owners take the teams, who needs the teams? People could harvest the useful materials from the building and would exists as a tourist attraction for centuries, a testament for an outdated, cruel and mythical practices in which emperors were bated against slaves. 

 Seattle Sentries, 2004

Seattle Sentries, 2004

From a tax perspective, arts funding can be seen in direct, honest relationship between citizens, organizations, cities and states that are supported federally. Stadia represent citizen millionaires billionaires who pay municipal bonds working in conjunction with city officials to essentially find tax-loops to avoid paying federal taxes. The complexes are profitable for few and seldom even used. I expect that only one (proposed) structure will be a greater waste of money with even less people enjoying it than sports stadia, and that’s Trump’s Wall. 

The NEA reports have shown that artists usually earn an income that is less than the national average. Funding for the arts makes a big impact not only on the audience that can access the arts, but on some of poorer, laboring and productive members of society. By contrast sports team owners, are the country's wealthiest individuals. Time and again, studies have shown giving tax subsidies to the wealthiest does not generate revenue, it just puts money in the pocket of the rich. The attack on NEA funding is a regressive assault on the multitudes of struggling creatives while stadia subsidies mock basic socioeconomic justice.




Frequently Asked Questions, National Endowment for the Arts, 2017
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Comparison of Arts Funding in Selected Countries,” Canada Council for the Arts, 2005
Accessed April 20, 2017

Artist in the Workforce 1990-2005, National Endowment for the Arts, p iii
Accessed April 20, 2017

“National Endowment for the Arts Appropriations History,” National Endowment for the Arts
Accessed April 20, 2017

“YEAR IN REVIEW: 1995: The Arts: Reports of NEA’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated (Yes--Listen Up, Newt),” Diane Haithman, Los Angeles Times, December 31, 1995
Accessed April 20, 2017

“National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley (97-371) U.S. Supreme Court, decided June 25, 1998
Accessed April 20, 2017

“5 Major Differences Between Public and Private Schools,” Blythe Grossberg, Thought Co, January 23, 2017
Accessed April 20, 2017

“The MFA is the New MBA,” Katherine Bell, Harvard Business Review, April 14, 2008
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Haunch of Venison Will Close Chelsea Gallery, No Longer Deal New Work, “Dan Duray, Observer, February 1, 2013
Accessed April 20, 2017


“Will New York Get Its Own Freeport for Art? ARCIS Plans a Tax Haven in Harlem,” Eileen Kinsella, Artnews, March 2, 2017
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Publicly Financed Sports Stadiums Are A Game That Taxpayers Lose,” Jeffrey Dorfman, Forbes, January 31, 2015
Accessed April 20, 2017

“The Never Ending Stadium Boondoggle,” Richard Florida, CityLab, September 10, 2015.
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Sports Stadiums Do Not Generate Significant Local Economic Growth, Stanford  Export Says,” Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News, July 30, 2015
Accessed April 20, 2017

“The Bilbao effect: How 20 years of Gehry’s Guggenheim transformed the city,” William Cook, BBC, January 12, 2017
Accessed April 20, 2017

“Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts mark 10 years of creative space,” Katharine Schwab, The Seattle Times, July 31, 2014
Access April 20, 2017

“The World’s Billionaires: 840 John Stanton,” Forbes, March 8, 2007
Accessed April 20, 2017