In refined circles, religion and politics are the two things you should never discuss. And as much as our own culture is changing, classical music still likes to be perceived as refined.
But this blog will not be abiding by that rule. So much for etiquette.
Due to the current political crisis in the US and with ripples worldwide, politics are necessarily hitting every media outlet, even ours. Because artists of all sorts do care about things like funding, healthcare, freedom of speech, education and other basic needs, we are duty-bound to pay attention when conflict arises, and to speak up when injustice rears its ugly head. And speak up we shall, particularly when others cannot.
As we illustrated last week with an unusual concert review, the local manifestation of the Women’s March had an unintended effect on events at the Music Center, as an estimated 750,000 protesters marched in downtown Los Angeles and swarmed parking lots, public transportation and nearly every roadway. Many of us who attended the afternoon concert (which started late to accommodate the extraordinary traffic) felt that our very presence was an act of defiance, supporting a worthy arts organization that will indeed lose funding if the Trump administration manages to make real their threat to eliminate the NEA. But that historic weekend was just the tip of the iceberg.
The current batch of protests, in real-life locations and very much online, is now primarily in response to Trump’s executive order last week, instituting an immigration ban that has already affected many thousands of travelers from a list of seven Muslim-dominated countries. Not content to merely target illegal emigrés and visa holders, the initial order also included more than half a million individuals who have already been issued a green card. While this part of the order was later rescinded, the brand-new administration is otherwise sticking to its guns, even after multiple federal judges blocked the ban, and by firing acting Attorney General Sally Yates today, after she instructed Justice Department attorneys not to enforce the ban. Even Republicans are chafing at this order. And after a weekend that features families separated, social media accounts misused, travelers detained for many hours, and a whole lotta backpedaling at the White House, it is clear that this particular fight is far from over.
Freedom matters for the arts, too
Here’s why we’re talking about this on an arts blog: if you don’t think it will affect you, you’re kidding yourself. Look around: you may not have realized it yet, but you have colleagues, students, teachers, employers and other artistic contacts who could lose their immigration status, be unable to travel, lose touch with family, or worse. The tech world has certainly raised a serious protest, and is working together to fight the ban, even joining with the ACLU and setting up other funds to support those affected. Academia is getting into the mix as well, as universities all over the country employ, teach, collaborate with and receive funding from a variety of sources, and that diversity is profoundly important to intellectual life and research.
Getting to international gigs… and home again
Travel is an immediate concern, of course, as the speed and recklessness with which this order was executed indicates that this is likely just the beginning. It does not just affect “fer’ners” trying to come to the US, either: resident aliens living here legally may be discouraged from leaving the country for some time, as they may have difficulty getting back in. Artists in every discipline will be barred from visiting the US, even for major events. Green card holders and dual citizens will still be affected, too. Even for US citizens, all of this activity is likely to cause a serious bureaucratic backlog, and could result in disastrous delays for those seeking American passports. Our classical community includes performers, conductors, composers, presenters, administrators and more who hail from the seven countries on Trump’s list, and are currently living here legally. But even if they are not eventually deported, they cannot reliably perform in other countries, or even visit relatives at home for some time, as the situation is just too unpredictable. Even after federal instructions to the contrary, some border guards have insisted on enforcing the ban, and with or without consistent implementation, a constitutional crisis is looming. Imagine going home for a week and finding yourself detained upon return, even after living here, contributing and holding a legitimate job for years. Other countries will also retaliate, restricting the movement of Americans through and within their borders. What the Trump gang seems to see as a tempest in a teapot has already escalated into a major storm.
It’s not just about protecting our friends, either: collaborative art can improve communication between cultures, and can actually make the world a better place. This is why artists from all cultures travel elsewhere to share their gifts and build a stronger sense of commonality through music, dance, visual arts and more. Keeping those lines of communication open could be one of the mostimportant thing the artistic community can insist upon.
We’re devoting this week’s news round-up to the current global fracas caused by our president himself. Learn the issues. Stay informed. Get involved. Human rights and due process are an essential part of the democracy we claim to love. It is just as essential to our ability to enjoy and maintain a diverse and vibrant arts culture.
And in case you haven’t already clicked your fill, here are a few more articles worth considering:
Immigration and the arts
Art community grapples with travel ban — KCRW Radio, 1/30/17
Cutting Off Culture: Immigration Ban Thwarts Artistic Exchange — Daily Kos, 1/30/17
Art as commentary
Review: ‘The Dictator’s Wife’ at Washington National Opera — DC Metro Theater Arts, 1/14/17
How Donald Trump presidency is fueling political art — Los Angeles Daily News, 1/20/17
What to do next
14 Ways to Get Engaged in L.A. After the Women’s March — Los Angeles Magazine, 1/30/17
Have another viewpoint? Want to offer an article or blog post you found particularly useful? Please comment below. Comments are moderated, so please be kind to one another.