Opinion » Viewpoint

TRANSLATION: MEMPHIS: Meanwhile, Bafck at ther (Used-to-Be) Cultural Crisis


By now, I suppose all of you have heard about "operation loot and pillage," the plague that has emaciated centers of cultural heritage, museums and libraries in post "shock and awe" Iraq.

Over the past week, timeless treasures dating back some 5000 years have been destroyed or stolen from several locales in newly “liberated” Iraq. Most notable and regrettable are those taken from the National Museum of Iraq, and the House of Wisdom, Iraq’s main library, both in Baghdad. It should be a busy week on Ebay. All cyber-cynicism aside, however, there has been much debate brewing in artistic and archeological circles, both in and out of Iraq, about the response of coalition forces to said crisis of lost, stolen and/or destroyed history.

To be sure, we know that the museum in Baghdad was one of many (upwards of 10,000) locations on the “no-target list” that coalition forces and strategists were urged to avoid in the process of initiating said shock and awe. In addition, the Archeological Institute of America had issued an “Open Declaration on Cultural Heritage at Risk in Iraq,” before the conflict had even started.

Nevertheless, some Iraqi civilians feel that their pleas for the coalition to protect their history, and by extension some might say identity, have been ignored.

But when you think about it in terms of the ways in which arts and culture have been valued on our own soil as of late, can we really be surprised? And furthermore, is our administration truly interested in the preservation of Iraqi identity?

Though I can hear it coming, the voices of dissent eager to catch me in the process of laying blame upon the soldiers stationed around these locales, I'm not going to do that.

Sorry, but you'll have to brand me a wretched leftist some other way.

However, I think that a quick glance at the manner in which appreciation for the arts on a governmental level is handled on American soil might be rather instructive.

To those of you asking what support in light of the recent budgetary crisis that is pillaging our own creative potential, I say exactly. v In 2002-2003, 42 states cut their arts budgets, and the forecast for 2004 isn’t looking so hot. Here in Memphis, as in cities all across the country, artists and organizations dependent upon federal, state and county funding are waiting anxiously to see how the budget axe will injure their various endeavors.

Have you heard about the $363,000 about to be cut from the Greater Memphis Arts Council? How surprising. According to a recent statement from Council president Susan Schadt in the Commercial Appeal, that cut accounts for nearly a fifth of what is then redistributed to local arts groups.

I personally know a few individuals from said groups who are more than a touch nervous about the ultimate impact of such a measure.

While we seem be making nominal promises to the people of Iraq that we will help them protect what’s left of their cultural heritage, like that which has been pilfered from the National Museum of Iraq, little could be (or was) done to prevent that catastrophe. The tactic used here at home seems to be similar.

Yes, yes, of course the arts are a pivotal element in a healthy and forward-thinking society. Yes, certainly it is of importance to maintain creativity and encourage new ways to think about and discuss the world.

But no, sorry, we just can’t find a way to pay for it.

And I guess maybe it’s too bad for the arts that unlike the federal government, the states have to actually balance their budgets. In the accountability found in that kind of accounting, the arts will inevitable be found overdrawn.

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