Last week I went to the city budget hearings on the museums of the Museum and Cultural Affairs department partly because various representatives were proposing some unfortunate solutions to their budget problems. Apparently large numbers of citizens called and wrote to protest, Dr Tomor of the Art Museum met with the individual involved and presented a logical case for not proposing draconian measures and there seems to have been a temporary stay.
Jeff Litchfield of the Forum, a non-profit arts organization sent out an email saying the arts are saved the people saved the day, democracy has prevailed and truth and justice will reign.(perhaps the last was just implied.)
Well, no. That is not what happened.
The arts in El Paso were not “saved” because they were not in danger from this quarter. The fight was a bit different and while no less important, it is important to understand exactly what did and did not happen
The question was:
A) The reputation of the city. At a time when other cities around the world are trying hard to showcase their museums and build a name for themselves as lovers of the arts, members of this city council seem to view the museums as some sort of elective frill.
B) Whether the citizens of El Paso, who effectively own the museums, would continue to be allowed by their supposed representatives to continue to have access to them to the extent they had previously
C) whether the members of the city council would honor their commitment to “keep the lights turned on.” The agreement between the museums and the city is every bit as much of a mandate as that between the police department and the city.
Essentially these were the questions, and despite the exuberance of Mr Litchfield, the fact of the matter is that while the city does seem persuaded they should not shut down the art museum for four daysa week and the history museum completely for six months, there was still the threat held out that if the “budget situation deteriorates” this might be revisited. The newest member, Ms Acosta, suggested that if the city withheld the $168,000 for operations -(i.e. that to which the city had previously committed) well, “Couldn’t you just ask corporate donors to make up the difference?” She asked brightly. She then went on to say that if there was no money the city would offer the museum the ability to choose what programs they could cut. She seemed to think this a kindness. This is like saying we will chop off your finger, but you get to choose which one.
There was talk of the fact that the police and fire departments budgets are mandated, but well the museum-fluff, you know. In fact the city has committed to pay for the operations, and that occurred when the city took charge of all the museums.
The budget has not been passed so none of this is out of the woods, though apparently Dr Tomor’s common sense and review of financial facts as well as the large public outcry has for the moment meant things are encouraging. The thing is there was absolutely no indication that certain members of the City Council have the slightest idea of the real importance of the arts in terms of a city’s culture, reputation and general civic well-being. As I’m writing this, I read an announcement of the Art Institute of Chicago announcing the opening date of their new multi-million dollar modern art wing designed by Renzo Piano.
Dr Tomor among many others in this city can see the tremendous potential for growth a thriving art museum would make for the city and the region-it is too bad some members of the city council cannot see this as clearly.
Of course, the arts in general in this city are another matter, and while there are a lot of artists, there seems a lack of city-wide appreciation, and in some cases as the recent Sunland Park Mall stupidity but this budget hearing was exclusively focused on museums and that is another matter altogether.-david sokolec