The following is the acceptance speech by Artvoice Publisher Jamie Moses from today’s 23rd Annual Arts Awards Luncheon. The speech is presented in its entirety and is a ‘Must Read’ for anyone who cares about the state of the arts in the WNY region:
Thank you to the Arts Council for this award, but mostly thank you to the Artvoice staff. Unfortunately, for you I woke up at six this morning and wrote down some remarks I want to share with you.
Although I was born here, I grew up in Greenwich Village, a small neighborhood that was home to people like Thomas Paine, Henry James, Walt Whitman, Pollock, Mailer, DiNiro, Dylan, Eugene O’Neil and hundreds more. Including Jane Jacobs, whose book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, possibly the most influential book in America on city planning, was inspired directly from her life in Greenwich Village, which she frequently cited as an example of a vibrant urban community. The heart of that community is its arts and creative people and that’s the environment I grew up in.
Artvoice began 19 years ago because when I came here I saw a beautiful city with an incredible population of talented artists, actors, musicians, and writers, but I also saw a shocking lack of appreciation for these creative people. And I saw all the media in town following the lead of The Buffalo News. Maybe that wouldn’t be bad if The Buffalo News were a different paper than it is.
Let me give you an example. New York City has nine major league sports teams, football, baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey teams. Yesterday’s New York Times had two entire sections devoted to the arts. Buried in the back of the business section were three pages for sports. Yesterday’s Buffalo News had ten pages of sports filled with sports columnists pontificating about nothing. Why is that? Buffalo only has two teams and one team isn’t even playing now. The Sabres play forty games downtown, which is excellent for the city. Now I don’t want to offend any Bills fans, but the Bills only play eight games here in entire year. Seventy thousand people sit in a parking lot in Orchard Park all morning, watch a game and drive home. For the impact the Bills have on this community they might as well be in New Hampshire. Yet they get tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funded lease deals, free sheriff’s patrols, infrastructure improvements and maintenance and they receive endless local media coverage. Why isn’t this kind of attention and funding given to our creative people who live and work in the city and produce something for us daily? Is it because we don’t believe art has economic power?
Consider that the Bills, host eight sold out stadium games here in a season. Okay, that’s impressive, but five musicians in their sixties, The Rolling Stones, in a single worldwide tour sold out 149 stadiums and arenas. Art is economic muscle.
Mamma Mia has grossed over $2 billion; Phantom of the Opera over $5 billion. Buffalo born choreographer Michael Bennett, went to New York, won seven Tony Awards, and his show A Chorus Line chorus ran for 15 years on Broadway and is still touring today, thirty-three years after it opened. But these artists had support. Jackson Pollock and other artists were supported by Roosevelt’s WPA program and now the Albright-Knox Art is holding a priceless collection of their work.
Santa Fe has a population of 62,000. It has 250 art galleries, a million tourists, and in cash sales that tiny city is the second-largest art market in the nation, following New York. Its whole economy is driven by the arts and cultural tourism. The people in Santa Fe take art seriously.
But for some reason here in Buffalo creative people are starved, starved for media attention and starved for funding, because our leaders the local media refuse to take art seriously. The county executive isn’t even here, and Mayor Brown walked out forty minutes ago. What does that tell you? The county has cut funding for the arts and there’s no city funding at all. Yet there’s money for the Bills and money for street and highway projects.
When I was a teenager there was fight over a plan to destroy the Soho neighborhood for a ten-lane Manhattan Expressway. Business leaders, politicians and construction unions were all for it. Jane Jacobs led artists and residents, in a fight that successfully beat back Robert Moses, David Rockefeller and host of other powerful people. Today, instead of a ten-lane highway, Soho is listed as a “must see” in every NYC tourist guide published. Do a Google search for Soho and search for restaurants, clothing stores or art galleries and you’ll see the map for that small neighborhood dotted with businesses as thick as raspberry jam, including Bloomingdale’s, Barney’s, Guess, Banana Republic, Apple Computer, and dozens of galleries. But who was there first and who created the attraction? The creative people.
If you want economic development you need to support creative people and let them loose, because if you don’t you will safely do the same thing year after year, which is nothing. Or you will safely do what our leaders have done here for the past fifty years, which is ignore the best interests of the community and endlessly chase money by mimicking what someone else, somewhere else did yesterday that got them a dollar. But that was yesterday and that dollar is gone and so we’re always behind and operating on a formal policy of a day late and a dollar short.
We need fresh ideas and you’re not going to find them in The Buffalo News. Recently, publisher Stan Lipsey bemoaned the fact that The News, which is used to making profits of $35 to $50 million, only earned $19 million last year. “We cannot have red ink at The Buffalo News” he said. So The News is shrinking its work force and cutting budgets in all departments because Stan Lipsey is out of ideas. News editor Margaret Sullivan said, the paper needs to focus on information that isn’t available elsewhere, such as high school sports coverage. “I think that’s the key to our survival.” High school sports, clearly Margaret Sullivan is out of ideas, too. When Lipsey says we cannot have red ink, he’s saying Warren Buffet will not lose money and The News will close if it isn’t profitable. That would be terrible. We need Warren Buffet to hire a new publisher and a new editor and get some new ideas.
Now in spite of what I’ve said of the economic value of the arts it would be a mistake to only see money as a justification for supporting art. When you watch a ballet dancer move like a weightless feather gliding in air, you stop and you think, “That’s beautiful.” And for that one moment the recognition of beauty has entered your breast, it went past the mortgage and the car payments, the death in your family and it touched you. It could be a dancer, it could be Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman or Yo Yo Ma playing cello that brings that moment of beauty. But that moment is more valuable than the Gucci bag on your lap or the custom made suit you wore to the theatre. It can inspire you, comfort you, make you think and give you strength to go forward, even at death’s door-like the urging words of poet Dylan Thomas,
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
This week’s cover story in Artvoice is about a $74 million windfall in unrestricted federal money coming to the county. What are we going to do with that money? We can’t let it fall into the same old hands of people pushing the same tired ideas of the past fifty years. We shouldn’t squander it in a negligible tax reduction. I call on the county executive to find a way to support the arts with some of that money and to find fresh ways to use the rest. A fresh idea can happen in an instant and can change everything. When Governor DeWitt Clinton
made up his mind to build the Erie Canal and in that one instant he changed the future of Buffalo. That’s the power of an idea. Let’s support the people with the ideas.