PRINT July 1963

Culture & Subsidy: A Report on the UCLA Arts Convention

A report on the conference held April 5 thru 7, 1963 at U.C.L.A. under the sponsorship of the University of California. Speakers in­cluded August Heckscher, Charles Eames, Richard Neutra, Aldous Huxley, Lawrence Lipton, and Herbert Blau, among others. Areas of discussion included: high art and popular art, the role of institutions, the role of government, problems of artists, inter­change and communication between artists, encouragement of younger artists and plan­ning in the arts.

THE CONFERENCE WAS A HUGE AFAIR, beginning with an address Friday eve­ning by August Heckscher, President Kennedy’s drum-beater for culture. It concluded with a major address by Aldous Huxley on Literature and Science. In between were a number of panel discussions, the panelists repre­senting the visual and performing arts. The papers read expressed a variety of views, from specific proposals (Bella Lewitzky on subsidizing the arts) to a capsuled, articulate history of a parti­cular art form in California (James Hart on writers of California). It became evi­dent in the early stages that one pur­pose of the conference was to focus attention on the tremendous strides California has made with this thing called culture. Time and again quanti­tative comparisons were made with the East. Los Angeles or California has so many more of this than New York; the number of that will soon pass New York. Rarely was the world quality uttered. The desire for a kind of freedom from the Eastern shadow was a pattern in many of the talks and discussions, yet it was also stated that due to rapid communication, regionalism no longer exists.

A major issue was that of subsidy. During intermissions, at lunch, every­where, the topic of subsidy was to come up again and again: would the govern­ment become involved and if so how and when and to what extent? Two pan­elists came out strongly for aid. Eugene Loring, the choreographer and Bella Lewitzky, dancer and choreographer. Miss Lewitzky was the stronger in her plea, stating that she had worked with the Public Works Administration Project in the 1930’s, had been a veteran of many battles with government agencies and was willing to battle again. She believes that the predicament of con­temporary dance can hardly get worse, citing the fact that Los Angeles has no permanent dance group and few if any records of choreographed dances are available to dancers. Mr. Loring gave a poetic talk and cited the problem of the American attitude toward American male dancers. Most of the delegates seemed to know what this attitude is. Urging for government aid also came from composers and musicians. Roy Harris made the astonishing comparison of Russian and American symphonies in terms of government subsidy. It sound­ed like a cultural lunar race: first with the best symphony to win the committed countries. Artists were poorly repre­sented, as usual. (One surprising dele­gate, Billy Al Bengston, dressed in his Sunday best.) From what was said in the general discussion Sunday morning and during the informal discussions, their attitude toward government sub­sidy seemed to be mixed.

One point seemed to be agreed on: government aid in some form was to come and the delegates should start preparing for such aid, working with their respective groups and the state government in order to assure the best method of distributing the money when it descends. The amazing thing was the fact that not a single delegate spoke of the existing subsidy in California, that of the state university and college system. Not only does it exist in Cali­fornia but extends east through the powerful state universities. To be sure this subsidy does not occur for all the arts but, taking painting and sculpture as examples, the benefits to the artist­-teacher are a form of subsidy. To these artists come short teaching schedules, studio space, use of foundries and presses, tenure and a reasonable salary.

One glance at a state university events calendar shows the extent to which the university has become involved in cul­ture, and public funds aid in the sup­port of these ventures. There is every indication that this role is to continue on an enlarged base, for no other or­ganization seems willing to become involved. It seems logical with such vast machinery already in operation that when further government aid comes much will be administered through the university system. This is big business, involving millions of dollars in physical plants, salaries and the like and it is apparent that the taxpayer wants it so, for the taxpayer is earnest about culture these days and to have it handled by the state seems a painless way to meet the costs, which continually mount. Huge numbers of personnel are neces­sary to operate such a complex, includ­ing personnel who give the operation the necessary ingredients of wit, charm and showmanship. (It was with hypnotic fascination that one watched William W. Melnitz, Dean of the College of Fine Arts at UCLA introduce the speakers. Public relations has never produced a more apt personality. He paced, bowed, gestured and with a ringing intonation proclaimed the credentials of each speaker.)

It would be well for the University of California to consider having a confer­ence that deals exclusively with the forthcoming problems of subsidy and its own role in plotting cultural paths for the future of the state. The role of the university was certainly uppermost in the minds of the delegates, for in the general session this area was given the greatest amount of time.

Huxley’s address made one uncom­fortably aware of the homogeneous qual­ity of the group; other than people directly or indirectly associated with the arts there was, in the list of delegates, but one engineer and one psychiatrist. While not improper this is perhaps short sighted. Huxley reminded some, and informed others, of the similarity in attitude of the pure scientist and the creative artist. Each of these beings operates at the limit of present achieve­ment and is continually probing forward. This activity is of a very different nature from that of the humanist acad­emician with whose cause the artist in the university too often tries to identify. It is the job of these minds to come after and to try to find significance and order in what history has produced. Huxley advised that we have much to gain from scientific discovery. As an example of the material that science offers to art, he referred to the potential of physic-pharmacy and drugs to in­crease creative awareness. The English­man gave a droll account of the state of the nightingale in present day Eng­land. The nightingale holds a glorious position in English literature. For cen­turies English poets have sung of the mysterious beauty of his song. In this century, in which the nightingale’s song threatens to disappear from the English landscape, and thus from the art of English literature, the scientist has dis­covered a partial solution to its mystery, thereby offering new possibilities to the English poet. At the time T. S. Eliot was writing of the nightingale, Howard was observing his habits. It had always been supposed that the nightingale sang a love song, he to her and she to him. Howard discovered that it was only he who sang. Moreover, he sang not of love but to proclaim his dominion of the neighboring territory, and the females therein, warning other males to keep away. It had always been wondered why the nightingale sang only infrequently and at such long intervals during the night. It seems that his digestive system is such that he must feed every four hours. So he wakes, eats, sings to warn other males and retires.

Huxley said: “It will take a genius, which I am not, to draw upon the abun­dance of scientific findings and make it into art.”

––Keith Boyle