The 1996 Mike Greene Grammy Speech
L.A.’s Shrine auditorium was home to the 1996 Grammy Awards with Alanis Morissette and Seal taking home the big prizes. I recall having to persuade the U.S. State Department to intervene in allowing Seal to even enter the country to perform. It seemed that there was this little issue of his being a convicted felon in Great Britain… we barely were able to get him to rehearsals before the telecast. He was a stone cold star and we all knew it would be well worth the effort. Our Musicares person of the year was Quincy Jones and the US Congress was still about the dirty business of trying to blame the arts for all the nation’s ills. My speech was titled the Declaration of War on the U.S. Culture and I lambasted the congress for their attempts to dismantle the arts endowments. In turn I laid out the case for the NEA as a great agent for economic progress and pointed out that if the governmental cultural strip mining persisted that only the privileged and rich children would have access to an arts education. I recall asking the reporters and interviewers in the press room after the show what great forms of artistic achievement they could name that the rich in America ever gave us… not surprisingly, no answers were readily available. The call to action was to urge viewers to reach out to their congress people, a bunch of posturers who were woefully out of step and culturally gridlocked… sound familiar?
The music we honor here tonight, builds upon the rich legacy, which makes American culture our most precious, popular, and profitable export. The arts also cut across class and culture; bridging sacred and secular, forging a sense of community in a very jagged and fragmented society. Yet those who preach the politics of division continue to target our culture as public enemy number one. This past year, the National Arts Endowment was slashed by 40%, cutting grants from $3800 to less than $700. Our government has now turned its back on programs that preserve Appalachian folk arts, inner-city initiatives that give African-American and Hispanic children the keys to their cultural heritage, kids summer reading programs and projects where elderly artisans teach traditional crafts to the young. These cuts and bruises aren’t just inflicted to the big metropolitan centers. We are talking about small and rural towns, who are already extremely sparse in access to touring programs. They’ve been cut in half as a matter of fact. Those extremists would dismantle our arts institution and envision an America where only the rich, the powerful, and the privileged have access to the arts. But, you know, it is really not for them to decide. What they don’t tell you is that America’s nonprofit arts institutions generate $36 billion in economic activity and support 1.3 million jobs. During the endowment’s three decades, before this cultural strip mining began, the number of symphony orchestras doubled, theater and dance companies grew by a factor of ten. We must not allow this genuine progress to be undone by the short sightedness of a Congress that is setting the stage for the complete elimination of Federal Arts Funding. (clapping) You have to remember something, when you think about this dilemma in the real context; small town arts organizations, music therapists, individual music teachers, they don’t possess the powerful political action committees, which buy influence inside the beltway. What we do have though, is the resolve of the vast majority of Americans, who will not be scared off. They won’t be driven off or bought off. Your elected officials have got to hear from you. We must join together as a unified force, a loud and an insistent force, an undeniable force against those who declared war on America’s culture. Ladies and gentleman thank you. Thank you very much.