East Peoria High School, home of the Eastlight Theatre (to which Landesman was invited)
Yesterday I suggested that Rocco Landesman,
the new and sometimes impolitic chairman of the National Endowment for
the Arts, would do well to accept the the invitation from the office of
Peoria’s Congressman, Aaron Schock, to visit that town and repair hurt feelings.
Now comes word that Landesman may actually intend to go there.
Marilyn Leland, president of the Peoria Historical Society, informed me late last night:
While locals do make the effort to travel to NYC and Chicago
to enjoy theaters there, we’ve worked hard for a long time to offer a
diverse range of theater opportunities. [She mentioned the Eastlight Theater, Peoria Players Theatre and Corn Stock Theatre.] We look forward to showing
them to Mr. Landesman, who has graciously agreed to visit [emphasis added].
I have queries in with Congressman Schock’s office and with the NEA to confirm this. When I know, you’ll know.
Despite my unfavorable review of his shoot-from-the-lip style, I want to reemphasize that I mostly agree with Landesman on substance: He’s right, I believe, in
wanting to select NEA’s grantees primarily on the basis of artistic
quality, not geographic diversity. I’ll venture further out on a
delicate limb to say that I believe the NEA’s much vaunted, geographically correct “Big Read” program, duplicating everyone’s middle school and high school reading list, should either change its focus to privileging contemporary literature, or else decamp to the U.S. Department of Education.
Do we really need to allocate scarce arts money to get more people to read (or re-read) “My Antonia” and “The Great Gatsby”? Still, that program did manage to funnel NEA money to Peoria: Its
public library received $18,000 for the community’s literary exegesis
of “The Maltese Falcon.”
While we’re at it, let’s also plunge a bare bodkin into NEA’s Shakespeare in American Communities program. I’m second to none in my reverence for Shakespeare. I regard as one of my greatest failures as a parent my inability to convince either of my kids that their college educations would be incomplete without a semester with the Bard. But the NEA should not be wheedling communities to “eat your Shakespeare.” Ideas for program content should percolate up from grantees themselves, not descend from Washington.
But let’s now leave Stratford-on-Avon and fly back to the heartland: Even before he takes off for Illinois, Landesman ought to apologize for an ill-considered comment that was bound to boomerang.
Do they serve crow in Peoria?
UPDATE—Marilyn Leland replies:
We serve lemonade.
UPDATE 2: Suzette Boulais, executive director of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois, has just informed me:
I have had the pleasure of corresponding with Mr. Landesman and he has assured me that once he gets a little more settled on his new job, he would very much like to visit us in Peoria and take in some of our stellar local theater. We very much look forward to his visit.
I’m still awaiting direct word from the NEA.