Capitol Ideas

Mr. Silva goes to Jefferson City

Throughout the day most of the arts boosters meet with staffers rather than the legislators themselves, but Giffen calls ahead and actually gets an appointment. He's excited. Although this is his first time pressing the legislative flesh, Giffen, with the attitude appropriate to a crusader, is prepared to charge in right away.

His charge leads him to a Kafkaesque cluster of offices, with Hartzler emerging from one shoebox, a stack of papers in her hands. She's Republican pretty, slim in a Nancy Reagan-red suit. "Are you looking for me?" she asks amicably.

Giffen requests just 15 minutes, and the time-conscious representative amends that to five. As she talks to her receptionist, Giffen perches in Hartzler's office, editing his pitch, leavening his broad ambitions to conform to effective sound bites.

Scott Giffen of Gash/Voigt Dance Theatre goes to Jefferson City to support the arts: "I keep knocking, get my foot in the door."
Eddie Silva
Scott Giffen of Gash/Voigt Dance Theatre goes to Jefferson City to support the arts: "I keep knocking, get my foot in the door."

Hartzler returns to her desk and assumes an attentive posture. Behind her is a framed print, a portrait of Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge. Unfortunately, there's no time to discuss with her the irreligious nature of the father of our country, or the power of art to propagate false history. It's Citizens Day, and this citizen has five minutes. In the days before smoke-free environments, maybe legislators lit cigarettes and said, "When this is done, so's your time."

Giffen starts in, but he's new to this, and the message lacks cohesion. Hartzler eyeballs the info in the packet and actually helps him along a little bit, asking appropriate questions about specific funding requests.

Too quickly, Giffen is talking about Gash/Voigt and their concern for presenting "women's issues from an encouraging standpoint."

"Women's issues" strikes a nerve. Hartzler asks pointedly, "Do you take a stand on abortion?"

For the record, Gash/Voigt does not do "pro-choice" art, whatever that might be. Their work is much more abstract than that, although they often work with young women on "empowerment" issues, meaning, through dance, a sense of one's own body and a sense of one's own self. Gash/Voigt would be the last company to do coat-hanger art.

Giffen sidesteps Hartzler's question somewhat ungracefully but in a way that seems to suffice. "I'm pro-life," Hartzler announces to no one's surprise. "I'm glad to hear you're not using tax dollars one way or another." But then she adds that she was a high-school teacher before she aspired to the House. She's worked with at-risk girls, knows the harsh realities of anorexia and bulimia. Hartzler begins to sound like one of those compassionate conservatives.

Her attentive posture begins to wane, though. Giffen keeps edging for dialogue. The five minutes are stretching into awkwardness. Hartzler has work to do. Giffen gets the hint and takes his leave.

"I keep knocking, get my foot in the door," he says encouragingly once in the hallway. He's going to write her a follow-up letter the next day, he says, but right now he just wants to sit and collect his thoughts.

The presentation of the 2000 Missouri Arts Awards follows in the rotunda, with two St. Louisans -- printmaker and Webster University professor Leon Hicks and playwright/director/producer Joan Lipkin -- being honored for their career achievements along with four others. Gov. Mel Carnahan gives a surprisingly rousing affirmation of arts funding and his role in getting it. The awards are handed out, with presenter Bill Levi of the Missouri Arts Council repeatedly pronouncing theater as thee-A-tur. Lipkin makes the most impassioned acceptance speech, acknowledging the history of her family, Russian Jewish immigrants who feared the government they left behind. Now, their American daughter is being honored by the government. More than a few in the audience get misty-eyed. Who'd have thought Lipkin would turn into the star-spangled girl?

Afterward, Jean Carnahan welcomes attendees at the door of the governor's mansion for a reception. On an unseasonably warm February evening, a few guests head outside with plates of food and drink. Imagine: Artists, an oddly demonized working class, at the seat of state government, being treated with all the official decency respectable constituencies deserve.

All is not Athens, though. A story is told about an audience with Republican state Rep. Jon Dolan of Lake St. Louis. Apparently Dolan supplied information about his own arts background. "My wife likes impressionism," Dolan reportedly said, "but I'm just along for the ride."

When the arts advocates pitched for additional funding for the successful Fine Arts Academy, a three-week intensive arts camp for high-school students in Springfield each year, Dolan responded, "As long as no one's throwing dung on the Virgin Mary, I'm all for it."

Art and the state continue their wary dance.

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