Michelle Obama – Arts Warrior!

I’m excited to report that, during her second New York City visit, first lady Michelle Obama spent her time emphasizing the crucial role the arts play in our society, reopening part of the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday and later addressing the crowd at a glittering ballet gala – where she was greeted with enthusiastic ovations from audiences that included prominent figures in politics, the arts, entertainment and fashion.

She stressed the importance of giving young people better access to the arts:

“The arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do if there is free time or if one can afford it,” she said at the museum. “Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation.”

michelle Obama and Caroline Kennedy at Metropolitan Museum of Art“The president and I want to ensure that all children have access to great works of art,” she told a crowd that included students from four New York City public schools that focus on the arts. “We want all children who believe in their talent to see a way to create a future for themselves in the arts community, either as a hobby or as a profession.”

Mrs. Obama also she reminded the audience that her husband, President Barack Obama, had included an additional $50 million (yeah!) for the National Endowment for the Arts in his economic stimulus package.

It was hardly the first time Michelle surprised the art world with her involvement, and it’s looking as if it’ll be far from the last. She and the president have gone to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to watch the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. They attended the reopening of the newly renovated Ford’s Theater, where Lincoln was assassinated. She’s been spotted at Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre, for a Welcome to Washington event that included performances by the Washington Ballet, the Arena Stage, the Washington National Opera, and other groups.

Mrs. Obama spoke in the newly renovated Charles Engelhard Court, a striking room filled with sunlight, in front of the Greek Revival-style facade of an early 19th-century bank branch that was originally on Wall Street. She wore a bright purple Isaac Mizrahi sheath and coat.  To the amusement of a crowd that included Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Vogue editor Anna Wintour, former model Iman and designer Ralph Lauren, Mrs. Obama was reminded by museum president Emily Rafferty that she and the president had their first date in a museum. (aside: how cool is that?!?)

“Thank you for reminding me,” Mrs. Obama said. “You know, after 20-some-odd years of knowing a guy, you forget that your first date was at a museum. But it was, and it was obviously wonderful; it worked.”

Michelle ObamaMichelle also met with arts luminaries in the gallery in the Egyptian wing named for Hatshepsut, the woman who ruled as pharaoh. “We thought it would be appropriate,” says Emily Rafferty.

After meeting with a group of arts leaders, the first lady changed into evening clothes and headed to American Ballet Theatre’s spring gala at the Metropolitan Opera House, a highlight of the city’s social calendar. Among the glitterati: Actresses Sigourney Weaver, Kim Raver, and Rosemary Harris; New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, opera singer Renee Fleming, and Wintour, who pronounced the evening “wonderful _ wonderful for the ballet, wonderful for the arts.”

The crowd rose in enthusiastic applause _ one man shouted, “Brava!” _ as Mrs. Obama, dressed in a black Alaia dress and Thakoon jacket, was introduced by Caroline Kennedy, whose mother, Jackie Kennedy, was a longtime supporter of the arts.

“My husband and I believe strongly that arts education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our nation’s leaders for tomorrow,” the first lady said, before introducing a multiracial cast of ballet students from ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, who leaped and pirouetted their way to a huge ovation.

FYI: parts of this story are from http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-05-19/obamas-new-arts-czar/ 

Senate Cuts Arts from stimulus bill… :-(

Americans for the Arts sent out this news, which is even more disappointing considering the list of senators who voted to cut arts funding (I have bolded those names):

Yesterday afternoon the U.S. Senate, during their consideration of the economic recovery bill, approved an egregious amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) that stated “None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.”  Unfortunately, the amendment passed by a wide vote margin of 73-24, and surprisingly included support from many high profile Senators including Chuck Schumer of New York, Dianne Feinstein of California, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and several other Democratic and Republican Senators.

If the Coburn amendment language is included in the final conference version of this legislation, many arts groups – including some in Chicago –  will be prevented from receiving economic recovery funds from any portion of this specific stimulus bill.  It is clear that there is still much work to be done in the Senate and in the media about the role that nonprofit arts organizations and artists play in the nation’s economy and workforce.

Americans for the Arts has offered a few plans of action:

  1. Easily contact your senator, telling them of your opposition to the Coburn Amendment, using this customized message .
  2. Click here to customize an opinion editorial to your local media, which supplies you with easy-to-use talking points.

To my readers – I strongly recommend that you join the Arts Action Fund today — it’s free and simple.