Thanks America! Big Bird & I Get to Keep Our Jobs

When Obama won the Presidency in 2008 I was a graduate student living in Harlem. The streets erupted with joy.

A new age had been ushered in.

I wandered out of my shoebox of a studio and walked through the streets, reveling in our victory for America. Eventually, I ended up at the apartment of a younger guy friend who liked to have me help him with his term papers. We got high.

In the morning, I woke up with a headache and the promise of the possible.

When you work in an industry like “the arts,” you learn to navigate a complex funding system that includes everything from federal grants from the National Endowment for the Arts to county-supported grants to corporate grants.

It’s a system of non-profits supporting non-profits where at the end of the day, government endorsement is key to keeping the support system in place.

Big Bird and I were getting ready to find our street corners.

When Governor Romney said he wanted to cut the federal funding that would go to supporting things like PBS, the repercussions of that went well-beyond the assassination of Big Bird.

I live in a region of New York state represented at the State and National levels by Democratic candidates. But, my county is run by a traditionally Republican Republican executor. A Republican executor who plans to eliminate a quarter-million in funding to the organization I work for.

And so, every year between September and March, my organization has to go to war.

State budget hearings in Albany.

County budget hearings.

We call in the troops and head out, en mass to tell the local government that the arts matter. Our ability to stay open and in turn, support hundreds of cultural organizations in communities throughout the region depends on the benevolence and good-judgement of legislators who realize “place-making” is about more than building highrises.

Blouin ARTINFO ran a summary of the Arts Action Fund’s analysis of  how the 2 candidates fared when it came to the arts. The punchline — a Romney presidency could easily have undone what Presidents since JFK have maintained as a cornerstone of American cultural stewardship.

The NEA, the IMLS, PBS, Title I… all of these faced uncertain futures. All of these provide my organization, and thousands of others with the funding support that allows them to keep arts professionals employed and the community engaged.

To be very blunt, my job and my co-workers’ jobs depend on having Democrats in public office.

How sad is that?

So today, the day after election day, all I can say is: Thank you, America! Big Bird and I get to keep our jobs, and you get to keep Downton Abbey.

Thank you America!
Me & Big BIrd

Remembering to Vote: From Teddy-Bear Caucuses to an Actual Ballot

“Do you even remember Bush Sr.?”

My friend Jimmy is 10 years my senior and likes to remind me of relative youth in a way that sounds as if I should still be wearing diapers. I like to remind him he’s 1 year closer a daily Cialis regimen.

“F–you. Of course I do. I even threw a re-election party for him. All my teddy bears were dressed in their finest,” I paused to give myself a moment to reflect before continuing. “Incidentally, it was the last time I ever voted for a republican.”

My Teddy Bears came out in fine fashion for a political rally when I was 7

Dear Readers, I should note that I was 7.

Indeed, In my extreme youth, I was quite the little politician and social activist.

In the 3rd grade, I started several clubs aimed at advancing civil rights while curtailing global warming. My Anti-Pollution Club was formed over a slumber party. The next morning, I made my friends go pick up trash along the sidewalk outside my house. By that evening, there was strife within the organization, and we disbanded on Monday morning due to “fundamental differences” with respect to our “founding principles.”

We didn’t actually use those terms, but we were 3rd graders in a national “blue ribbon” public elementary school.

There was also the Women Vote Too club, which was aimed at getting women the right to vote. We retired our efforts as soon as one of our members discovered that, thanks to something called an “Amendment” to a piece of paper called The Constitution, women already had the right to vote.

Again, we were 3rd graders in a public elementary school.

Like any good politician, I ran an illegal gambling ring.

Like any good politician, I also ran an illegal gambling ring. At summer camp, I convinced my counselors that we were holding intense Go-Fish tournaments, when really, I was teaching my fellow campers poker and making a killing.

You’d be amazed how much milk money kids got in the 90s.

Then in middle school when we had to select, memorize and deliver speeches originally spoken by someone else, I always chose key, historic political addresses. Susan B. Anthony’s defense to the court. President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech:

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask knot what your country can do for you –ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what American will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

Yea, I memorized that.

I also ran for student council.

For those few minutes when I cast my ballot, I am the all-power Wizard behind the curtain.

Every real election, I accompanied my father to the local fire hall that became our polling station. I would watch intently as he closed the curtain, flipped some switches, and cast his ballot. I felt he transformed into the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz — all powerful and all knowing.

The democratic process fascinated me. And I confess that at an early age, I hoped to live out the prophecy of the doctor responsible for bringing me into this world:

“She’s going to be our first woman president!”

20 years later, I can’t say I’ve remained so politically-minded. I have my causes, but my aspirations to follow in Kristen Gillibrand’s or Hilliary Clinton’s shoes are not as high as they once were. (Though, I wouldn’t mind being Chair of the President’s Committee on Arts & Humanities….which means, I’d better get friendly with a President.)

But, if there’s one thing I still believe in, it’s the power of the voting booth to transform.  For those few minutes behind the curtain, I’m alone with just myself and my choice.

I am the all-knowing and all-powerful Wizard.

“With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love…”