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Raymond J. Learsy Headshot

Art Prevails Where Our Government Fails

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Amidst all the talk and failed initiatives coming from Washington on creating jobs, jobs, jobs for Americans and the stillborn programs creating or improving America's infrastructure, little has been achieved and given the ongoing stalemate in government, less is being done.

Concurrent to the current sense of national disillusionment we have the good fortune of being gifted with an example of artistic vision, perseverance, gumption and sheer temerity from the world of the arts that in strong contrast, touches on the very issues where our governance appears to be failing.

Two artists, Christo and his now deceased wife Jeanne-Claude have been working to create another of their masterworks, after the "Wrapping of the Reichstag" in Berlin, creating the "Gates" throughout Central Park in New York. Now after years of debate, local politics and raising fifty million dollars, they have received approval from federal regulators, the Bureau of Land Management, to proceed with the project "Over a River" that will cover portions of the Arkansas River in Colorado with 5.9 miles of "silvery, luminous fabric." "Over the River " will be dramatic creation of 'site art' enabling a multitude of jobs, a stunning vista that according to Federal officials "could generate $121 million in economic output and draw 400,000 visitors" energizing the economies of the surrounding towns and region.

Christo and Jean Claude, two immigrant Americans. They, in creating and placing "Over the River" are not only making a masterful artistic statement, they are showing the nation the vitality of its arts and the creative process in not only enhancing our lives, but also as a tool for economic development and well being. Here are two individuals who are giving of themselves, and all of us are the beneficiaries. This while our government atrophies the arts by cutting art budgets where and when they can.

Our National Endowment for the Arts, the banner governmental organization meant to support the arts has seen its de minimus budget cut again and again. Today its annual budget is some $150 million. That is less than one third the more than half billion dollars our government has showered on the politically connected Solyndra project alone, a massive and costly initiative taken in the name of creating jobs and alternative energy. Yet as the weeks go on, Congress and the Administration is hoping the Solyndra debacle and related issues will quietly be swept under rug. Were the NEA to seek even a modest increase in its budget, given the economic benefit attendant to its work, many in Congress would be up in arms while our White House would benignly look away.

The economic benefit of the arts accruing to communities around the nation, and to the nation generally has been set forth in in-depth studies by 'Americans For the Arts', a highly respected Washington based art advocacy group (earlier this year Robert Lynch, Americans for the Art's President would be quoted by the L.A. Times that the arts help sustain 5.7 million jobs).

For fifty years now, Americans for the Arts has helped the arts community at large have their voice heard in the halls of government. But Americans For the Arts does not have the financial firepower of such as the oil industry, the pharmaceutical industry, parochial interest groups, not to speak of the Financial Sector (please see "A Nation's Shame: Bailing Out Wall Street By the Bucketful While Supporting Our Great Art Traditions With an Eye Dropper" 04.19.09)). And so, the arts, our artists and their supportive institutions are too frequently left outside the zone of influence that access has facilitated.

For that reason what Christo and Jeanne Claude have created is an exemplar of American self-reliance and a potent example of how support to the arts could have economic consequences of a magnitude out side the understanding of our current lawmakers in Washington.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude have shown, by example, what we as citizens could accomplish were the arts to have a more prominent place in the halls of Government, and for that and to them, all Americans should be grateful.