Idaho’s economy and the arts

Ted McGregor of the Inlander took issue with the ending, after a 45 year run, of the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theater. The reason I decided to post his commentary to blog; he had a few misconceptions that can’t be passed by without comment. First of all, the misuse of Charles Darwin’s theories of biological evolution. Mr. Darwin did not propose a political argument—Social Darwinism—which became quite fashionable in certain circles, by the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I.E. that if you were a man of wealth you were [more fit] than the laboring classes you presumably employed. What I’d call a very callous and inhumane argument. Perhaps such an argument, was one of the reasons class struggle could begin in earnest. Such as Beverly Gage sought to discuss, with reds being the agent provocateurs behind it all. What any of the resurrected “Social Darwinism,” would have to do with to do with the closure of the Summer Theater, would be anyone’s guess. What I do know, was that it was Horatio Algiers, who provided fantasy stories for the modern era of his time. The fantasy stories about “self made men” who managed to “pull themselves up by the boot straps.” In real life (and probably in his books as well); typically, the fellow who came to some kind of prominence, was also the guy who caught a lucky break. Literally, he had help to get to his current position of prominence. What does such a fantasy story have to do with the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theater going out of business? I wouldn’t know.

Mr. McGregor opined about “grown up cities” that funded their culture and arts communities. What he figured that Spokane, Washington, for one, could also do. Well, all well and good. However, even if our Republican controlled legislature, in the state of Idaho, wished to fund a vibrant arts and culture community; there would still be a problem. Regarding the prior blog post concerning Idaho’s wages compared to the rest of the country; that says that most people are struggling to make it. Given the high prices for everything in this state, a ticket to see any of the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theater plays, would be extremely low on the priority list. Nor did Mr. McGregor make that kind of connection. People are going to be more likely to pay for a ticket at the $2.00 Hayden Cinema, than buy a more spendy season’s pass and watch professionally produced plays. Shocking? No. It is all a matter of what very poor people can actually afford.

So here’s the rub, it doesn’t matter how many grants or funding is given to a vibrant arts and culture community. Like any other aspect of the marketplace, the arts and culture community still requires paying customers. In the state of Idaho, where wages are at 46 compared to the rest of the country; food, clothing and other basic necessities, medical bills, rent, maintenance of transportation, insurance, cost of education, etc.; it wasn’t likely that the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theater would survive for much longer under the circumstances. It might be a shame, but there you are.

As a closing argument for this particular blog post, I would have to say this. When wealth is concentrated into very few hands, and those with the money prefer to stockpile it in a secure place, it isn’t only the putative employees who would suffer. Direct sales Farmers’ Markets could certainly suffer. Mom and pop small businesses could certainly suffer. Competitive corporate franchises could certainly suffer. And last, but not least, so would a vibrant arts and culture community. There is no question, they would certainly suffer. I will agree with Mr. McGregor in this much, the CDA Summer Theater could be called a “canary in the coal mine.” But he was looking in the wrong direction for the lethal methane gas. Yes, actually; theater and the arts are still subjected to the capitalist system that is the underpinnings of this nation. You still need a paying customer to make a profit. The Republican controlled state legislature may have created a “business friendly environment.” But with the demise of the CDA Summer Theater, just how “business friendly” is the state of Idaho? Even in a right to work state, the various business interests that don’t want to pay their employees good wages, because those CEOs can actually get away with it. Well, but they and other businesses still require a paying customer, to buttress their bottom line. I can’t help it if the people at the corporate level, can’t seem to make the connection. Maybe when they start losing a lot of money, because they refused to pay their employees good wages, so that those employees could in turn, actually become paying customers; would these 1%ers finally wake up? Or would they run to government and expect a handout, on no less than the backs of, the struggling taxpayers? As much as we could mourn the passing of an era, let’s face reality; it takes a robust economy to keep an arts and theater culture alive.


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