Posted 13 May 2001 - 09:38 PM
The Kennedy White House was one which patronized the Arts in a way I can't recall in any recent administration. It seemed to go way beyond obligation to genuine love of culture. Dance related souvenir programs included with the exhibition include one from the POB during the Kennedy's visit to Paris. Included was a Harald Lander ballet, Rendez-vous, to Mozart and performed by Josette Amiel and Flemming Flindt. A second program was for ABT's Billy the Kid performed at a White House function. Billy was John Kriza, Alias was Bruce Marks.
I know that there were other times the Kennedys had ballet at the White House. One of my first teachers, Marie Paquet, had a picture in the studio of her meeting JFK along with the Joffrey company after performing at the White House. Victoria or Mel, would you have anything to add on either ABT or the Joffrey's visits?
Posted 13 May 2001 - 10:08 PM
But I believe Victoria was with ABT for the Kennedy performance.
Posted 13 May 2001 - 10:37 PM
It does not seem a small thing now to have made art a matter of national policy. In an age still racked by fear — missile shield, anyone? — it is vivifying to be reminded that the desire for beauty can survive the rage to destroy.
Posted 14 May 2001 - 01:55 AM
I'm all in favor of the President taking notice of the arts, and sponsoring them; don't get me wrong. And I think it's great that Mrs. K. invited Balanchine to the White House for a chat. I'm sure it lifted his spirits, if nothing else, and thus served a good purpose. (Imagine Laura Bush sitting down with Mark Morris!) But I also think it's worth pointing out that, in exchange for tolerating a few evenings of ballet, symphonies, and such like, President Kennedy received the undying fealty of distinguished intellectuals who have proved to be loyal tribunes of the glories of the Kennedy years in the face of some damning historical evidence. Who profited more, the Kennedys or the arts? The former, I'm inclined to think.
Also, I think those stiff shantung frocks and Kenneth bouffants look like hell, to be honest. It's a tribute to Mrs. Kennedy's personal flair that she brought such stuff off.
Posted 14 May 2001 - 05:21 AM
Mrs. Kennedy's husband appears to have
regarded culture chiefly as window dressing to attract academics and other
egghead types to the Kennedy banner; he was patronizing the arts in more than
I'm not a fan of everything JFK did, but I would never have concluded that he considered "culture" as window dressing. Is there some factual trail of evidence to support this assertion Dirac? I can't think of any other President since I've been alive who supported and "seemed to" appreciate the arts more in the context of U.S. culture.
Posted 14 May 2001 - 06:49 AM
If the answer is "yes" -- which it is -- his motivations are irrelevant.
Posted 14 May 2001 - 07:56 AM
But I remain pretty indifferent to the personal tastes of these figures, though -- up to a point -- I do appreciate public policy that supports the arts. However, I very strongly agree with Dirac's comments about the Kennedys. I have been quite appalled by the uncritical tone of many intellectuals and artists on the subject of the Kennedy administration. From a specifically "arts" perspective, one might invoke Salzberg's question -- are the arts better off? -- but actually I don't think it's always easy to know if the answer is a straightforward "yes."
I also think that it does matter that the arts and intellectuals generally were supported during the Kennedy administration in large part because American artistic and intellectual institutions, including the New York City Ballet, were seen as weapons in the propaganda wing of the cold war. If you want references, a somewhat sloppy book recently came out about this: Frances Stonor Saunders _The Cultural Cold War_. It's full of silly mistakes, but the overarching argument and research that went into it remains worth attention. One might respond, "who cares" if public and even some private funding (Ford Foundation) that spurred the dance boom can ultimately be traced to the CIA? Didn't the arts benefit? (See Saunders book if you want references...) And I would add that ALL arts support is likely to be 'tainted' in some way or another, if not politically then commercially, socially etc. But in a larger perspective, I don't think the supporters of the arts should be indifferent to what is going on -- or WHY it's going on -- partly because there are situations where independence can be compromised, but also for more pragmatic reasons. It may, for example, account for patterns of public support AND their withdrawal. Today's arguments against public funding of the arts rarely mention, for example, the end of the cold war and, in the meanwhile, people look back (in my opinion over idealistically) to the Kennedy adminstration, as a time whe the arts were "understood." But if in fact federal support for the arts has often been motivated by other, seemingly alien issues, like foreign policy -- then a great deal of this debate, however sincere on all sides, simply misses what is really happening.
Posted 14 May 2001 - 08:05 AM
Posted 14 May 2001 - 09:16 AM
It's a fascinating and complicated issue, and there's material in the exhibition that supports your view. One thing that's interesting to those of us in the age of Betty, Rosalyn and Hillary is how studiously Jackie avoids political positions. She understands her job as PR and sticks to it assiduously. I have no personal knowledge of the administration; I was born one month before JFK died, so politics really didn't enter into my understanding until Watergate and the end of the Nixon administration. One of the most surprising things for me was that the Kennedy administration did indeed seem like Camelot in the exhibition, mythical and long-ago.
In a tape of Jackie talking about arts in the White House, the interviewer asks, (I may be misquoting this exchange, I only heard it once) "Do you think there should be a relationship between the government and the arts?" She smiles and talks with that breathy voice, "That's so complicated! I don't know. . .as long as it's the best." She absolutely refused to be pinned down to an issue.
I've got to say I love the clothes and the 'dos, though. My Mom's take was "hate the gowns, love the suits." To bring this back to ballet, Balanchine's visit with Jackie is not mentioned in the exhibition but it is in Taper's biography. He was her first guest to the White House, on Jan. 25, 1961. It seems he was as taken with her as Kruschev. The stiff, costumelike qualities of her clothing made sense to me in this context. She seemed to see her job as being Goethe's Eternal Woman; Balanchine said it explicitly in a letter to her where he asked her to take on the role of "spiritual savior" of America.
I don't mean in a religious sense but I mean to distinguish between material things and the things of the spirit -- art, beauty. No one else can take care of these things. You alone can--if you will.
Your husband is necessarily busy with serious international problems and cannot be expected to worry too much about the nation's art and culture. But woman is always the inspiration. Man takes care of the material things and woman takes care of the soul. Woman is the world and man lives in it. Woman makes the earth into a home for man.
Even in art, it is woman who inspires man. God creates, woman inspires, and man assembles.
I firmly believe that woman is appointed by destiny to inspire and bring beauty to our existence. Woman herself is the reason for life to be beautiful and men should be busy serving her. . ."
It's quite a quote, romantic and patronizing all at once. But it seemed like a role Jackie Kennedy understood for herself, and she had the wardrobe tailored to fit.
Posted 14 May 2001 - 12:55 PM
Posted 14 May 2001 - 01:53 PM
On the other hand, on balance, I've noticed many more Republican politicians in the audience at ballet performances than Democratic ones, and Republicans aren't known for their generous policies to the arts -- although it's quite possible these people give privately. FBI directors, CIA directors, not only Kissinger but Brzezinski; several Senators. Sandra Day O'Connor is the only Really Big Wig I've ever seen at a non-glamorous event. I've noticed her at smaller modern dance performances, even some ethnic fare at the Smithsonian.
Back to Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Camelot, one of the most exciting stories I've ever heard about politicians, possibilities and the arts was how Mrs. Kennedy was attending a gala at (I believe) DAR hall and phoned her husband at a break saying, "You've got to come over and see this." He did. I like the idea that a President is four blocks away from dance and can just "pop over," and that one would. I don't think that can be a bad thing for dance.
I think we're at a pendulum swing on the Kennedys now. He was very unpopular in many circles at the time of his death, then became sainted, and now is in the disembowelling stage. There's a quote from Jackie Kennedy that was used as a promo for a PBS bio that seems appropriate here: "It is difficult to separate the good from the bad [in a person]. And perhaps there is no need to do so." I think she was a lot wiser than her pillbox hats.
Posted 14 May 2001 - 08:00 PM
I can't resist, however, one minor anecdote. A delegation of Girl Scouts paid a visit to the White House and required an official welcome. The President had other ideas and dispatched Pierre Salinger to Mrs. Kennedy to suggest that she do the welcoming. Salinger returned in short order with the message that Jackie viewed the Girl Scouts as her husband's problem. JFK accepted his fate and went to have a talk with his wife. Mission accomplished, he so informed Salinger, who said something like, "How'd you do it?" The President made a face and said, "Two symphonies."
Leigh, the Balanchine quote is a striking one. "Your husband is necessarily busy with serious international problems and cannot be expected to worry too much about the nation's art and culture," nicely sums up the feminization of culture that has played a part in promoting the arts in this country but has also held them back. Sigh.
Posted 14 May 2001 - 09:23 PM
Posted 16 May 2001 - 01:37 AM
Alexandra - it's not ballet, but Ruth Bader Ginsberg was the interviewee at a recent Met Opera broadcast. She's a big fan of opera. She revealed that both she and Scalia had actually been onstage as extras with the Washington Opera.
Two other famous ballet fans are the Newmans (Paul and Joanne). Due to a crush in the orchestra bar area, I came within inches of Paul's gorgeous blue eyes on one occasion.
Back to the Kennedys: I think that Jack wanted to be viewed as an intellectual, sophisticated and cultured individual - a contrast to the rough-and-tumble Irish image some had of him. Jackie had the genuine interest and knowledge of the arts. She used it to further the image of the Kennedy presidency as well as to further the image of the US as a nation of high cultural standards - and yes, as a weapon of the cold war.
Posted 16 May 2001 - 09:10 AM
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