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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kansas City's Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

I just read a piece in The Atlantic Monthly about the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City. My god, this building designed by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie looks so beautiful, and how enlightened of the Kauffman family, who made their money in pharmaceuticals, to give Kansas City such a gift. Even if, as the Atlantic wryly notes, they did it for publicity reasons, the music inside is real.
But this news comes to me at a strange time. I've been reading student essays about health and medicine. A few brave souls took on the labyrinthine funding questions, so I've been beefing up my understanding of Medicare and Medicaid. Of course, since all American public discourse must fit on a bumper sticker (we need to get it quickly so we can get back to news of Michael Jackson's doctor and Kim Kardashian's divorce), I'm reading lots of simplified accusations about bankrupting our country and throwing granny off a cliff.
The truth is, we'd howl if the government wanted to build a performing arts center in any city. Americans keep voting for candidates who promise to lower taxes, so we're not even protecting teacher pay, let alone creating public spaces for ourselves and future generations.
But the way I see it, lot of the money the Kauffmans made came from taxpayers. Between public workers, Medicare, Medicaid, the military and prisons, the government funds 60% of all health care. What didn't come from taxpayer money came from private insurance companies, funded by employers and individuals. That's us, all of it. And maybe some of the people we read about who had to choose between food and medicine funded it, too.
The Atlantic Monthly piece lists other arts and sports centers funded by AT&T, Sprint, etc. And if these corporations take a break from lobbying Congress and funding candidates to build stuff, I think that's great. And, again, funding the arts is wonderful. I hope to go to KC to see this breathtaking building. But I also think we should be howling, loudly, over the way corporations are making money hand over fist from us - so much more than they need to cover costs - because they can. I'd rather pay higher taxes and have some say in the shaping of my community. It's not just sour grapes - that we don't have a Kauffman's here in Youngstown to sweep us off our feet - it's that private money gets little public say, and has a huge effect on public life.
So thank you Kauffman family, and Andrew Carnegie, and Gates foundation. Sometimes the uber rich make beautiful leaps of faith that government could not imagine. But the dark side is the gutting of the public sector, and money manipulation by the axis of evil: Koch brothers, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, et al.
Let us shift the balance back toward a rich public discourse, a shaping of the future, and public money working toward a public good. Let's put the public back in public. How's that for a bumper sticker?

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