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Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey Deserve ‘Ovation’ for Their Arts Advocacy on the Hill

4/11/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

It’s not often that Hollywood royalty
like Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin get bumped from
guest appearances, but that’s what happened last Tuesday
(April 5) on Capitol Hill.

They were among the scheduled speakers at a House
Appropriations Subcommittee hearing about proposed
funding cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts. The
hearing was scrapped due to the ongoing efforts to avoid a
government shutdown.

Spacey gave interviews on the subject instead, including
one with CNN in which he said the speakers “pretended” to
be testifying before the Senate during speeches they gave at
the annual Arts Advocacy Day kickoff on the Hill.

Charles Segars, CEO of arts-culture network Ovation, cochaired
the day’s events, and he’s seen at the start of a You-
Tube video about a “flash mob” that broke out in the packed
caucus room at the Cannon Office Building.

As Segars takes his seat after some remarks, a man steps
forward from the back of the room and says, “You’re right, the
arts do unite us, and I think they’re all around us.” Various
people in the room then stand up and start singing “America
the Beautiful.” (They were members of the local acapella
group The Capital Hearings, brought in by Ovation.)

The next day, after a mini-upfront breakfast with reporters
in New York, Segars and Ovation executive vice president
Chad Gutstein re-emphasized the economic arguments
against cutting the NEA’s $167.5 million annual budget. “I
think it’s fair to say the arts community is incredibly disappointed”
with Obama administration plans to subtract $21
million from that total, he said. The House has proposed $43
million in NEA cuts, plus elimination of the Education Department’s
$40 million Arts in Education Program.

Spacey said the $167.5 million in NEA spending leverages
$1 billion in total funds to arts programs, after matching
grants and other donations come in. The performances and
exhibitions that money enables eventually leads to $29 billion
in local and state tax revenue, the actor told CNN.

Gutstein told The Wire all that spending supports
some 5.7 million jobs nationwide — a huge return on
the NEA investment.

Baldwin said during an HLN interview April 5 that beyond
the economic rationale, “the argument I’m really fond
of this year is the fact that we don’t want to leave the cultural
identity of our children to commercial interests alone. I
mean, I work in this business, and if you leave everything
to the music industry and the movie industry and the television
industry for our young people to kind of develop
their own sense of self and self-expression and their identity,
we’re in for a lot of problems in this country.”

HLN’s Joy Behar, agreeing, observed that Jersey
’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi was being paid $32,000
for a speech at Rutgers University. Baldwin professed
outrage: “I spoke at Montclair State for nothing; what
the hell’s going on here?”

Spacey also drew kudos for the arts advocacy lecture
he delivered at the Kennedy Center on Monday night
(April 4), presented by Americans for the Arts, in partnership
with Ovation.