By Christopher Raab
When the ageless and shriveled prophetess, Cumaean Sibyl, who was granted eternal life but not eternal youth by Apollo and who consequently now lives shrunken in a tiny jar, is asked by some local boys what she might want, she answers “I want to die.” The epigram, about someone who has lived too long and lost too much, is used to set the thematic tone for T.S. Elliot’s The Wasteland, which equates unexamined life, devoid of culture and greater meaning, as specious existence. The past-and-future-knowing Sibyl, container and all, should be moved to Lansing: Since 2001, Michigan has cut its budget for the arts from $26 million to $2.1 million.
A decade ago, Michigan was saying Yes! to a creative kinetic that invigorated and enriched and hyper-framed our everyday. Yes! to being and becoming. Yes! to heightened dissent and agreement, harmony and discord, the stuff of dreams and the stuff of stuff expressed through art. Yes! in ways of looking and looking at ways.
Back then, state taxes and federal funding awarded state artists and art organizations throughout Michigan for their roles in creating joint-is-jumping communities. Places where people want to live, where shops find shoppers and where outsiders come to look.
Now, it’s 90 percent gone. Michigan Public Radio’s Jennifer Guerra, in her recent radio documentary, The Cost of Creativity, compared what the state’s taxpayers spend on prisons to arts funding and found that penitentiaries run through more than that couple of million in less than half a day.
How does Michigan want to invest? As business propositions, if one is a necessary evil, the other is a necessary good. Juice jails and you get license plates; nurture art and 15 percent of the state’s cultural tourism revenue will continue to flower—about 16,300 people and $1.8 billion blooming dollars worth in 2008, according to the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, making aesthetic pursuits an important economic contributor to the state.
It doesn’t take a Sybil to tell us that times are tough and that Michigan is running a huge deficit. But it’s short sighted in a state worried about brain drain to do so little about the quality of life for its citizens. Our new governor said on the campaign trail that he was going find ways to support the arts. State legislators will convene this spring to allocate where the dollars will go. The Wasteland proper famously begins with the line, “April is the cruelest month …” Let’s see if it’s prophesy.