Chancellor Merkel adopts a youth orchestra

In the thick of the biggest currency crisis for a generation, the German chancellor has found time to announce her personal sponsorship of the Baltic Youth Philharmonic. The orchestra consists of 90 students from around the seaboard. They are rehearsing Prokofiev 5th this week in Kaunas, Lithuania, ahead of a grand tour. Krystian Järvi is the founder and artistic director.

Das Baltic Youth Philharmonic unter Kristjan Järvi. Foto: BYP, M. Lawrenz

Angela Merkel’s personal support is a massive morale booster for the students and a money-raiser all the way round the region. It shows that the German leader really cares what her kids are getting up to this summer.
Anyone else care? Cameron? Sarkozy? Obama? I thought not.
(Oh, and let’s not forget Scotland, where they’ve halved the youth orchestra’s subsidy. Is Alex Salmond bothered? Not a bit.)

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      • @william osborne

        I think anybody who has been paying attention knows Obama cares.

        A few months after he took office, Congress voted in a $10m supplement to the NEA budget. In addition, a $50m allocation for the arts was included in his stimulus package, over vigorous Republican objections.

        It wasn’t as much as it should have been, but if that’s not good enough for you would you rather get nothing from the Republicans? Or rather, less than nothing – characteristically, the Republican-led House Committee has just approved a $20m cut in the NEA budget.

        Obama is also the only president in US history to publish an arts platform as part of his campaign. When an arts delegation met with all the presidential candidates in early 2008 to present a multi-point plan for the arts, the Obama campaign was reportedly by far the most responsive, and the only one to actually add another point, which was the creation of an “Arts Corp” – artists going into underserved communities to improve lives through the arts. While domestically, these and other proposals have been met with vicious Republican attacks (I’m assuming you know the story of how Boehner and Cantor exploited the Smithsonian’s display of a David Wojnarowicz work for party-political ends), the Obama administration swiftly put a variation of this idea into effect abroad through new cultural diplomacy initiatives.

        In other words, in addition to the $60 million in new money the Obama administration has provided to the arts through the NEA since his election, he has also put his money where his mouth is by making State Department funds available to support international tours by US dance companies and musicians. There is the potential for even more State Department money becoming available for the arts through new bi-lateral agreements that include cultural exchange components, such as the one recently announced with Brazil.

        When he appointed Rocco Landesman as the new Chairman of the NEA, Landesman wasted no time in gaining access to additional support for arts organizations and participation through a range of new partnerships (http://www.nea.gov/national/index.html). Yet the flagship initiative of this re-invigorated NEA, Our Town (designed to support “creative placemaking projects that contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful, and sustainable places with the arts at their core”) has been targeted for a 60% cut by the aforementioned Republican-led House Committee.

        When Republicans have responded to increased access to power by consistently and shamelessly misrepresenting and exploiting the arts for unrelated political ends, I find it a bit much to just sit back and expect Obama to “put his money where his mouth is”. Particularly when it’s patently inconsistent with the facts.

        • Kit, here are the facts. The 50 million stimulus package given the NEA was only 1/16,000th (one sixteen thousandth) of the TARP funds (800 billion.) The ten million increase for the NEA was 1/370,000th of the 2011 budget. The decimal number is too small for my calculator to render. On a pie chart it would not even qualify for one pixel on a computer screen.

          These microscopic numbers are cynical token gestures to serve as phony alibis for a public too ignorant to even understand what is happening. Unesco, by contrast, recommends that countries spend one percent of their budget on the arts – a principle followed by almost all developed countries except the USA.

          People have trouble comprehending federal budgetary numbers because they are so large (or so small as fractions when it comes to arts funding.) Before it was cut in half this year, the New York City Opera’s budget was 22 million. Just one percent of the US military’s 750 billion budget could fund 340 opera houses at 22 million a piece.

          The USA is the only developed country without a comprehensive system of public arts funding. Even Turkey has a state opera in every major city. Since comprehensive public arts funding systems are a norm in the developed world, why isn’t there a party in the USA with such a platform? What does this lack of choice in our vote say about our supposed democracy? So Obama cares? OK, let’s see the money, not token gestures designed to deceive.

          • I completely agree the stimulus wasn’t as much as it should have been – and pointed that out in my comments.

            But againh, would you rather have gotten nothing at all, or cuts, from the Republicans?

            The issue we’re discussing is whether Obama cares about the arts. I’m in no doubt that he does. And you’ve offered nothing to persuade me that he doesn’t.

          • William, Germany doesn’t have a “comprehensive system of public arts funding” either. It’s a wild patchwork of state, local, radio, foundation and private funding with relatively rare federal participation (in Bayreuth, for example.) In large part this is due to the constitutional assignment of culture (especially ediucation) to the federal states, so that national participation is only for large prestige projects considered to be of national interest (which is, for music, basically Bayreuth and the opera houses in Berlin.) Since the Schroeder administration, there has been an advisor for culture to the cabinet, but without a budget or a proper staff or office. The institution that should be supporting music nationally, the German Music Council is both modest in scale and diffuse in mission, especially since the scandals a few years ago.

  • Also, I completely disagree that the initiatives I described were “token gestures designed to deceive.”

    Deceive who, exactly? These are thoughtful initiatives designed to improve the standing of artists and participation in the arts in the US.

    I didn’t even mention a new $1m State Department funding program administered by the Bronx Museum of the Arts which offers substantial grants to artists to undertake art projects abroad: http://www.bronxmuseum.org/smartpower/index.php.

    I see no point in throwing ill-informed insults at perfectly good federal funding initiatives that are providing millions of extra dollars for the arts.

    • Part of the problem in the States is that the climate of political zealotry in both mainstream parties so often renders discussion impossible – as we see here. Contrary views, even as simple as concrete numbers, are merely “ill-informed insults.” On the other hand, this dialog has some value, because it demonstrates how even infintessimal token gestures can mollify people. Take that 1/370,000th of the budget, which comes to one third of a penny for every American, and be happy. Tell us how great the Democrats are and how much they care about public arts funding. I’m not interested in discussions based on partisan politics.

      • Your judgment that the federal funding programs which numerous people both inside and outside the US government are working hard to administer and implement for the benefit of artists and the arts are “token gestures designed to deceive” is a groundless, ill-informed insult.

        It has nothing to do with numbers or partisan politics.

  • GW, yes, Germany’s funding system is divided between Federal, State, and Municipal levels, with only a tiny portion coming from the Feds. (Private funding sources are relatively small part of the whole in Germany, as they are for most of Europe.) Even if diversified, I still refer to such public systems as comprehensive in the sense that they create a very rich, comprehensive cultural infrastructure. For example, of the top one hundred cities for per capita opera performances, Germany has 45 while the USA only has three: New York at 6th, Chicago at 66th, and San Francisco at 96th, thus barely making the list. Scandalously, there are many major American cities in the 200 to 350 range. (I have lived in Germany for the last 30 years.)

  • So interesting to read the previous dialogue as it seems the antagonist might well be an American Republican, representing a political party whose platform recently has been “Anything Obama does, we’ll trash.” If Obama’s token budget for the arts is small, it also reflects the American interest in the arts, which overall, is miniscule. Americans will rally in numbers and protest their right to carry a gun but almost none will turn out demanding their right to carry a tune. And since the current Republican-majority in the House considers all matters cultural and artistic to be exclusively dominated by lefty liberal Democrats, it’s a wonder Obama got anything at all artistic into his budget.

    • Actually, I simply don’t have much belief in either party – which isn’t unusual these days. We can’t judge American interest in the arts because they’ve never had much of a chance to experience them – as is statistically demonstrated. Our funding and educational systems reduce interest in the arts. We then use that lack of interest to further reduce support. Niether party has shown any real inclination to change this situtation.

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