Change has come…for the arts?
Obama’s victory at the US elections this week has been tipped as the dawn of a new era in both North American and world politics, but what will it mean for the arts? American literature, in particular, suffered greatly during Bush’s tenure, Horace Engdahl at the Nobel Academy scorned its literary efforts as “parochial” when announcing the prize shortlist this year. During the electoral campaign, Obama’s vision for the arts outlined his plans to rejuvenate the industry. He stressed the need to attract more foreign talent and expand artistic partnerships and cultural diplomacy. In other words, he was suggesting that, once he became president, he would actively encourage creative relationships across the globe and embrace the artistic traditions of other countries, nationalities and races. So, certainly, if these plans work in practice, then he might be able to bring the United States out of its inward-looking artistic state. The initiative also emphasised his plans to reinvest in arts education. This is all well and good, but will it be enough to save Broadway? New York’s theatre land has been flailing recently with plummeting ticket sales. Some fear that the expected ‘stable’ era of Obama’s presidency will in fact have an adverse effect upon some areas of the arts – widespread disillusionment during the Bush years sparked a positive boom in political art. Artists are inspired by trying times and the United States has certainly seen its fair share of those. Yet Obama himself has been the subject to inspire so many artists during his campaign. One print publisher in Los Angeles, Gemini G.E.L, even made $3 million when he produced a portfolio of work by artists including Jasper Johns, Richard Serra, Ed Ruscha, and sold it in aid of the Obama campaign. Maybe a handover of power will be enough to rally artists and resurrect arts and culture after all.
Ghosts from the Past
Linz will take over Liverpool’s crown as European Capital of Culture for 2009. Liverpool will certainly be a tough act to follow, but Austria’s third city has a history that comes back to haunt it – Adolf Hitler spent his childhood there.
In what they feel is a necessary step to confront the ghosts from their past, they will be holding an exhibition entitled the ‘Fuhrer’s Capital of Culture’.
During the era of National Socialism and Hitler’s period in power, his childhood home recaptured his interest and he set many elaborate and grandiose plans to expand the city.
Most of the plans remained unrealised but for many, Hitler’s legacy is still so sensitive that the exhibition seems unsettling and simply serves as a reminder of unhappier times. Although the curators insist that the exhibition aims to help people understand that Linz’s culture was so deeply embedded in the politics of the time, that culture and politics became almost inseparable. It also highlights the extensive impact that the Nazis had on the arts in the region.
Spain is another country delving into its dark past this week. Its already controversial ‘Law of Historical Memory’ has gone one step further and granted citizenship to civil war exiles. The legislation, which came into force in 2007, recognises that there were victims during the Spanish Civil War on both sides,among both Republicans and Nationalists. It also acknowledges that Spain, as a nation, was a victim of the Francoist dictatorship. This new legislation has proved so controversial as it marked a radical departure from the former ‘Pact of the Forgotten’ which completely forbade people from talking about their past, the atrocities of the Civil War or condemning Franco. The Spanish Civil War is undoubtedly a singular event in the country’s history and cannot simply be forgotten. The seventieth anniversary commemorations held throughout Spain in 2006 highlighted the significance of this period for the Spanish nation itself as well as for the effect it had upon the rest of Europe. It is estimated that there are around 500,000 exiles living abroad all over the world from Russia to Latin America. According to the new measure, they will now be eligible for Spanish citizenship, but only if they can produce either their parents’ or grandparents’ birth certificates. So many fled the country in such haste, though, that it’s unlikely their descendants will be able to avail of this opportunity and get back to their Spanish roots.