The price of beauty

Posted: Dec 10, 2006 12:42 AM
The price of beauty

John F. Kennedy once declared, “I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty.” Whatever JFK was talking about — perhaps Marilyn Monroe? — it wasn’t baseball.

Surely, we can all put politics aside, though, and simply agree that beauty is . . . well, beautiful. To look at, I mean. Much like baseball. I, for one, like both beauty and baseball.

Anyway, this newspaper headline caught my eye: “Spending Cap May Block Beauty.”

The subheading went on to inform that: “Improving City’s Blank Canvas Could Require Art of Politics.”

Is it just me? Somehow I’ve never thought of politics as art.

And you’re probably wondering: What city? What city can we pretty much write off as a “blank canvas,” devoid of beauty?

Well, the city in question is our nation’s capital: Washington, D.C. Yes, somehow when it comes to contemplating a limit on government spending, even a city with the White House, the Capitol, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Washington Monument, embassy row, Georgetown, and the National Cathedral, can be considered a “blank canvas” desperately in need of taxpayer-funded bedizenments.

Nowadays, it’s an all-too-common tale in these United States: Washington, D.C. government is spending $611 million on a stadium for the city’s new privately owned baseball team, the Nationals. Welfare for the rich . . . on steroids. Bread and circuses for the rest of us. Politicians in financially strapped Washington, so often previously heard complaining they lack the funds to help all those in need, suddenly become Daddy Warbucks for the big business of Major League Baseball.

And the capital’s caring elite spent over half a billion without even a vote of the people. No surprise, of course. That’s become par for the course.

I can imagine the solons and their sycophants thinking, perhaps even saying out loud: We can’t do these great things for the people if we let those unwashed masses decide whether or not we can spend their money on our big ideas.

But get this: The City Council is now signaling a snippet of spending restraint. These fiscal tough guys have set an absolute line-in-the-sand limit on what the city can expend in public funds on the stadium project: $611 million bucks.

And not a penny more.

Councilmember Jim Graham told reporters, “There is a majority of this council who feel very strongly about the cap. I don’t think any of that should be relaxed casually.”

But if the cap is not relaxed . . . it means the stadium beautification planned by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities — at the additional cost of $2 million — cannot be done. D.C. residents would be stuck with a $611 million stadium that Washington Post reporter David Nakamura calls “a cold slab of concrete and glass.”

Nakamura has a point. Without the $2 million art beautification effort, the stadium will be nothing but a place for tens of thousands to watch baseball games. Nowhere would one be likely to find an active appreciation for other artistic expression. Just a bunch of baseball memorials, team pennants, retired jerseys, plaques to ball-players, and crowded hot dog and souvenir stands.

If we can put a man on the moon, can’t we surely put artwork in baseball stadiums?!

Certainly, it would be nice to have a stadium with magnificent works of art adorning it. So, the idea crossed my mind of allowing volunteer artists, mere amateurs, to help spiff up the new ballpark. For free.

But then it hit me like a ton of bricks and mortar: Only the professional artist types (those within the orbit of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities) are likely to know exactly how to attach cow dung to paintings of sacred religious figures. Otherwise, it could be quite a mess. And where else would we ever find pornographic performance art? (Except perhaps on the playing field at times, and then at even higher prices.)

Let’s face facts. Without publicly funded artists, art isn’t art — it’s merely pretty pictures and sculptures.

Which brings us back to the problem. According to reporter Nakamura, “[L]ike virtually everything related to the stadium project, the arts commission’s creative license was shot down by a familiar refrain: There isn’t enough money.”

Boy, haven’t we all gotten to know this niggling little predicament of insufficient dough? Why just the other day I found an item I wanted at a price I could afford. It was merely a plain, run-of-the-mill variety of that particular item. There were no beautiful extras. Of course, I’d really like the one they’re selling for a cool $2 million — it’s absolutely teeming with beauty.

It’s just not fair. I don’t have the $2 million to spend.

Lovers of beauty everywhere, I feel your pain.

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