I know the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing was supposed to be the be-all-end-all of shows; however, January 18, 2009 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. the Inaugural Ceremonies of the 44th President of the United States Barack Obama's concert "We Are One" surpassed a show and became a Woodstock for the new generation. And say what you will about our economy or our foreign policy, but American artists of all kinds reach throughout the world in to many cultures, serving as ambassadors (some, would argue, that is the problem!). The show was electric, and it didn't need the world's largest LCD monitors or 10,000 tiny people crammed in to boxes in diapers to astound; nope, just a backdrop of one of the grandest, and most imposing home courts in the world, Washington D.C., and some of the best artists from all disciplines at the top of their respective crafts.
Yet, as I sit basically unemployed as so many artists spend their lives, I was reminded by the opening concert that without art and artists, life would simply be unimaginable.
As Obama himself referenced the Lincoln Memorial let's not forget that building that served as the perfect backdrop for this, and many other occasions, was the work of architect Henry Bacon from Watseka, Illinois, sculptor Daniel Chester French from Exeter, New Hampshire with the interior mural painted by Jules Guerin, from St. Louis, Missouri.
As Obama looked forward on January 18, 2009 from the stage addressing the crowds at the Inaugural Concert, he saw the Washington Monument, designed by Robert Mills from Charleston, South Carolina. Mills is called by many in architecture the first native born American architect, which, while disputable, is a lasting honor indeed.
As America and the world looks to Washington they will see the works of many painters, artists, architects.
And as the emotions stirred it was mostly American singers that stirred them. While watching this particular concert, how could an American not be moved? For me, and with great bias, I watched with tears streaming as The Gay Men's Chorus of Washington D.C. sang proudly. I don't own one Gay Men's Chorus record, have never been to any show of any of them, but there they were, a gaggle of gay men in AIDS ribbons in front of Lincoln, enough hair product and designer sunglasses between them to start a salon. And I was proud. These men, many DC and surrounding area natives, sang as Josh Groban from Los Angeles, CA belted "My Country 'Tis Of Thee" with Heather Headley, from Ft. Wayne , Indiana via Trinidad (came here at 15), on the same steps where 70 years ago singer Marian Anderson from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, sang to 75,000 having been denied the right to do so at another event for the Daughter's of the American Revolution because of color. As Headley sang toward the First African American Family tears welled, in America's eyes as well. As John Cougar Mellencamp from Seymour, Indiana sang "Ain't That America" or Garth Brooks from Tulsa, Oklahoma, "American Pie" (written by Don McLean from New Rochelle, NY) I thought Obama is already uniting, I dislike Country music as a whole and yet, I'm on my feet, dancing.
As I watched in HD like much of the world, watching the work of countless technicians, camera people, crew of all kinds, scenery floating in and out, choirs appearing and then not, Tom Hanks of Concord, CA, reading Lincoln's words choreographed to an incredible live score played by full military band all of it beamed in HD across DC and the land I wanted to hug "We Are One" producer Don Mischer, graduate of University of Texas, Austin for pulling it all together.
And of course hats off to Chuck Dolan from Cleveland, Ohio, founder of "The Green Channel" which used his innovative idea of burying cables beneath the ground to send signals, and then microwaving them short distances around to people, the first being the residents of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, because that, of course, became HBO which has aired this concert to the nation, free of charge.
Yes, I am in praise of American artists. I know it's goché but no one can create in today's modern times quite like we can. That's not to say that all great artist are American, I'm simply saying no one can pull it all together quite like us on film, on stage or musically (used to say 'or on record, but, there aren't records any more, so what do you say now, on stage, screen or iPod? another editorial, I know...)Truly, it is no wonder that the Entertainment industry remains one of our biggest exports; yes, that evil Hollywood that the Right loves to slam brings billions of dollars a year in to the economy of the United States by sending it's products elsewhere, and we definitely export more than we import in the entertainment department.
The fact is, as states face record deficits and everyone is faced with hard choices, the arts and artists get cut. California is facing $42 billion in shortfalls, and arts programs are being cut again. Professionally, thousands of artists of all types, in front of and behind microphones and cameras are losing their jobs. On January 20th, one of the nation's largest media entities, Clear Channel, is rumored to be having a blood letting of over 1000 jobs on and off air. CBS has cut, cut, cut, Citadel Radio, ABC, newspapers closing, less column inches for writers, publishing houses closing, endowments going away.
Even the Madoff scandal has touched the arts, causing charitable foundations to revoke their endowments because they simply don't have the money.
Yet when times are tough, we turn to song, to TV, to film. Right now the nation is bleeding money but box offices are fine, record sales doing all right. BMI Music this year dumped almost a billion dollars back in the economy in licensing fees alone, putting that money in the hands of writers, artists and record companies. Now that's economic stimulus.
As Beyoncé from Houston, TX sang "America The Beautiful" written by Falmouth, Massachusetts native Katharine Lee Bates, a woman that lived with another woman, Katherine Coman, for 25 years until her death, I wondered who will teach the new children of Houston about music and song as that city suffers from economic crisis and natural disasters often? As Kal Pen from Montclair, New Jersey so eloquently put a face on a new generation of Americans, I asked, what local theatres, after school programs or drama class will foster the next actor in the bunch?
As I gazed at the artwork on screen wherever the camera panned, I wondered in our stucco world and disposable architecture culture, who will supply sketch pads, rapidographs or oils to those whose works will one day adorn the new D.C, whose buildings will build this future of tomorrow. And as Malia Obama herself, born on July 4th in Illinois, snapped feverish photos of Springfield, Ohio's John Legend or Long Branch, New Jersey's Bruce Springsteen, I hoped that schools would now see that if you put a camera in the hands of child and let them explore the world with it, they begin to see so much more. And whether Malia grows up to be the next Annie Liebowitz from Waterbury, Connecticut or not doesn't matter; art isn't about what you become from it it's what it does to you while creating it that matters.
Think about it, even on a personal level, in terms of support for the arts. When's the last time you commissioned a photograph, even from a friend just starting out, of yourself or the family? How many of you have paintings, original artwork from friends or artists you enjoy? When's the last time you went and saw a local band, a local play, a local art exhibit? As I sit beneath a painting of my late husband done by my current wife (complicated) I feel so blessed: art and artists have been around me my entire life and I have lived a better one for it. Right down to my tattoo artist Geoff Funk whose work I'll keep forever. Oh, he's from Ohio.
Hollywood and the entertainment industry take a beating often. Being an artist, a painter, a sculptor, a writer, photographer, musician, reporter, cinematographer, editor, muralist...on and on...today those are seen as hobbies. And while the origin of "don't quit your day job" is unclear the sentiment is not: the arts are simply not deemed a viable career and yet they are one of our biggest exports and create things that last for generations to come. Odd dichotomy, no?
America put on a great show January 18, 2009. I'm sure the ones over the next few days to follow will only get better.
I am a proud American artist today, proud, because so many in my field of entertainment showed their patriotism through their jobs no matter what that job was or is, behind or in front of the scene.
And I am proud that our artist of today and yesterday are shining brightly in our nation's capital, inspiring so many as the world looks on.
Obama gives the nation hope. Maybe watching those artists, all of them, throughout the event, maybe living around such history and architecture and culture, some of our nation's oldest (and we're young...) and maybe, as the world looks on, we can remember that art of all kinds not only brings us joy, but brings future generations a snapshot of our time and talents.
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