Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A `Know-Nothing Approach' to Funding the Arts

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A `Know-Nothing Approach' to Funding the Arts

Article excerpt

Back in the late '70s, during the annual battle in the Missouri Legislature over appropriations for the Missouri Council on the Arts, the favorite entertainment was a staged floor debate designed to ridicule the cultural institutions in urban areas.

A state senator from a rural area would rise to his feet to inquire of a debate partner whether he knew where all the money for the arts was spent. When the senator professed ignorance, the instigator would tell him that it went to men in "monkey suits" sawing on violins in St. Louis, or some similarly hilarious image. This produced the desired hee-haws from listening senators.

After poking fun for awhile, the senator would then ask his partner if he got big money for the arts in his district. "Why, no!" would be the reply, with simulated amazement. The senator would then say that his district didn't get any either. Clearly, the Senate should just cut out all the arts money, seeing that it was handed out so unfairly. We always managed to find the votes to save the arts appropriations, but after a couple of year, I got a little tired of this routine. Counter measures were needed. In advance, I asked the staff to do a little research for me. When the outstate senators got up to do their routine, I quickly enlisted the help of a fellow senator from St. Louis, known for his flair for drama. I rose to inquire of my partner. Did he know how much money was spent on parks in the state of Missouri? "Why, no," he replied. I gave him the current figure. Then I inquired whether he knew how much state parks money was spent in his Senate district in the city of St. Louis. "How much?" he asked. "Zero," I replied. And did he know how many state parks dollars were allocated to the neighboring St. Louis Senate district? "Zero," I proclaimed again. As I continued to call the roll of urban districts and answer with the same cipher, my partner suffered such extreme shock that he was forced to wave his handkerchief in surrender as he collapsed in his seat. But I had one final rhetorical question: "Do you, think, senator, that the reason that the parks money goes to outstate Missouri and the arts money goes to the metropolitan areas is because the parks are located outstate and the symphonies are located in the cities?" Since that time, the distribution of both parks and arts money has been widened across the state, and that's all to the good. But the tenor of the '70s debate lingers, as is evident in the efforts of some members of Congress to end all federal funding of the arts. There's a "know-nothing" strain in American society, a seething resentment of what is portrayed as elite, intellectual and alien that has bubbled up throughout history. According to the dictionary, a "know-nothing" considers it a virtue not to understand. …

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