Guarded Optimism Is the Mood for '91
After the toughest year they can remember, arts leaders are taking a deep breath and hoping for a brighter new year
ARTS leaders are cautiously hopeful about 1991. They expect the rancor surrounding the big battles of 1990 - over Robert Mapplethorpe's sexually explicit photographs, Jessie Helms's assault on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the rap group 2 Live Crew's lewd lyrics, the alleged suicide messages in the music of the rock group Judas Priest, filmdom's hotly debated NC-17 rating, Milli Vanilli's bogus record album - to fade a bit in the new year. Though uneasy about the shadow of war in the Mideast and the slump in the United States economy, the arts community hopes the next 12 months will give it time to focus again on creative endeavors, rather than more lobbying, testifying, and answering accusations.Skip to next paragraph
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This community also believes the arts can help awaken concern about urgent social, political, and environmental problems and make a significant contribution to the quality of life. Those are the recurring themes from year-end Monitor telephone interviews with 10 artists and arts administrators around the United States.
Nineteen-ninety was ``an extraordinarily tough year,'' says John Walsh, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, Calif. ``In a weird way, it was recognized that art is very important - at least it can make some people furious. And we have to understand what's great about that and not just what's threatening about it.''
Gerard Schwartz, artistic director of the Seattle Symphony and music director for the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York, says, ``Obviously the NEA will now be a little more careful, but its position is not as a leader to cultivate the avant-garde. The avant-garde has to cultivate itself. In 1991, as always, there will be a tremendous opportunity for creativity in the arts. Communities want a great orchestra; they want a wonderful conductor. They'll support it if their orchestra has a real artistic profile, if they feel it's well-run. ... We're just beginning to realize there's an incredible public out there that cares deeply, whose pulse we have to feel.''
The visual arts are also responding to the public pulse, according to Patterson Sims, associate director for art and exhibitions at the Seattle Art Museum. ``An enormous number of artists are making works which mediate between social circumstances and what a work of art might have been in the past,'' he says. The new works are ``issue-oriented, oriented toward political change.''
Julia Brown Turrell, director of the Des Moines Art Center, points to an ``internationalization'' in the arts. ``There's an awareness now ... that one must look at the history of important ideas as being larger than just the European history,'' she says.
Gordon Davidson, artistic director of the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, agrees. ``It wasn't long ago that plays were set in Park Avenue or Upper West Side apartments,'' he says. ``The people in the audience knew those apartments because they lived in them. That's forever changed. Today we have to find plays that embrace a wider view of what our society is. ... The answer is not in quotas for Asian, Latino, and African plays but creative leaps of imagination and opportunity.''
Ara Guzelimian, the music administrator who plans programming at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, sees ``the pairing of the standard repertory with new works - where the new piece sheds light on the old and vice versa'' - as increasingly important now.