A few thoughts sparked by seeing a play about Emma Goldman:
- Which Henry Clay Frick are we to remember, the one who ordered the massacre of striking workers or the one who turned his mansion and art collection into a museum and a portion of his fortune into the museum’s endowment? Is it possible to remember the latter without remembering the former, inasmuch as Frick’s wealth rested on pocketing as much and paying workers as little as possible? And should we be surprised, or merely disturbed, that the answer to the second question is "yes"–that, in fact, to most people the name "Frick" means just generosity rather than generosity made possible by murder? For as Hitler asked–in a phrase resonating especially loud this week–"Who now remembers the Armenians?"
- If, as Emma Goldman said, even in the midst of struggle we must relish and cherish the arts, does that mean don’t look a gift museum in the mouth? Or does it mean the Nonprofiteer is (gasp) wrong and we should enhance public funding for the arts so we can attend museums untainted by vile business practices? Or does it mean we should stop wasting energy on peripheral legislative battles like arts funding, focus instead on raising taxes on corporate gains, and worry about how to replace the public-spirited byproducts of those gains once they’ve actually been reduced enough to place philanthropy in jeopardy?
- What are we to think of a theater company whose performance provokes these questions and whose curtain speech is, "We put every dime of ticket sales into production, so we don’t pay our actors; if you want the actors to be paid, please put money in the Actors’ Fund box at the exit"? Is that merely a terrific fundraising pitch–an especially vivid description of how donations are used–because, after all, money is fungible; or a complete contradiction of the play’s pro-worker message? As there IS no production without actors–no art without artists–no work without workers, shouldn’t workers be paid first and companies–theatrical or otherwise–then beg for contributions to pay the light bill and the landlord? Is it relevant that the Nonprofiteer, who hears a dozen begging curtain speeches every month and feels free to ignore them, stuck $20 in the Actors’ Fund box?