Enlightened Leaders Value Arts and Culture

“We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.”
– John F. Kennedy honoring Robert Frost in speech at Amherst College

Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 9.42.21 PM                                   Robert Frost                                               John F. Kennedy

On October 26, 1963, President Kennedy honored poet Robert Frost in a speech at Amherst College who died in January of that year. In the speech, Kennedy made clear the need for a nation to represent itself not only through its strength but also through the arts, this from the President who stood down the Russians during the Cuban missile crisis. You can listen to Kennedy’s speech here, and read the transcript here.

Two years later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, creating the National Endowment for the Arts.

Fifty-two years later, President Trump submitted his budget proposal to Congress that eliminates $148 Million for the National Endowment for the Arts and $148 Million for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the same budget he proposed to increase defense speeding by $53 Billion to $639 Billion.

Cultural programs make up 0.02% of the federal budget. By his proposal he has demonstrated his total distain for the arts that is only matched by his ignorance of science, the environment, and human suffering and dignity.

To understand a billionaire’s values you only need to follow the money.  The man is an abomination, an embarrassment.

The Enablers


511 Days Until Mid-term Elections
November 6, 2018


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Eccentric Genius – Synonyms

“What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart.” – Vincent van Gogh in a letter to brother Theo

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 8.45.07 AMVincent van Gogh (March 30, 1853 – July 29, 1890)

Art has a mysterious way of touching emotions. With the expansive body of work Vincent Van Gogh produced during his tortured lifetime, “A Pair of Shoes” is the single painting that grabbed me by the collar the moment I first saw it many years ago in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Its attraction, I believe, is in its honesty. Knowing Van Gogh’s story, his struggle with mental illness while still becoming one of the world’s the most prolific artist. It is a work of empathy that says, “Walk a mile in my shoes” – the poor, homeless, indigent, mentally ill, addicted, and in these most callous of times, refugees.

Many years after first seeing “A Pair of Shoes” the painting came back to mind when I was rehabbing a home my wife and I bought, and after I changed at the end of the day I took the the photo below of my work boots. Sometime later I wrote the following poem for an Ekphrastic art exhibit.

                          “A Pair of Shoes” Van Gogh – 1887                              “A Pair of Shoes” JB – 2015

Tired Soles

Tortured soul nerves frayed

soles scuffed in cobbled alleyways

beaten leather, laces splayed

a peddler’s Pair of Shoes

bears the weight of genius,

the artist,

a peasant on a pilgrimage

to Arles from Paris

Gauguin’s room a burst of light

Sunflowers, an inferno of gold

Sheaves of Wheat

pale sulfur internal furnace

the toll of life, madness.


jim brennan

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Ekphrastic Poetry

“When we get more houses than we can live in, more cars than we can ride in, more food than we can eat ourselves, the only way of getting richer is by cutting off those who don’t have enough.” – Nelson Algren


From the Ekphrastic Poetry reading at the Manayunk Roxborough Art Center on March 5, 2017. Autumn II is my reaction to the painting below, those tall, sturdy women with a Philly spin.


Autumn II

I call the tall redhead Ruby

her twin sisters are copper and auburn

the cousins mostly blonde and brunette,

they’re lean and slender with diverse skin

which doesn’t matter the way they band

together in the fiercest storms,

take a winter squall for example,

when the thermometer drops below zero and

wind plasters two inches of ice to their bodies,

these sturdy women shun the most frightening gusts

and sway like the Evangelical choir on Lehigh Avenue

where Dick Allen lifted one over the grandstand

planting disciples onto the field like saplings in spring.


           jim brennan

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Immutably Whimsical Tony Hoagland

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Poet Tony Hoagland can make you laugh as easily as he can make you cry, but mostly his poetry makes me laugh. Hoagland’s work has been described as zany, wisecracking and disarming, his words shed light on an oblique perspective on everyday life he finds absurdity in the most difficult circumstances. Take “Fetch” for example, in which he describes finding true companionship is a four-legged friend:

but that was before I found out my metaphysical needs
                                                                      could be so easily met
by the wet gaze of a brown-and-white retriever
with a slight infection of the outer ear
                                           and a tail like a windshield wiper

“A slight infection of the outer ear?” I’m jealous.


And then there is “Dickhead” which begins with the lines:

To whomever taught me the word dickhead,

I owe a debt of thanks.


My first Tony Hoagland collection was What Narcissism Means To Me about which poet Marie Howe writes, “Hilarious, searing poems that break your heart so fast you hardly notice you’re standing knee deep in a pool o implications.”

If you need proof, read Fred Had Watched A Lot Of Kung Fu Episodes

And then a poem that might evoke sad memories, yet leave you with a smile:

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
by Tony Hoagland

On Friday afternoon David said he was divesting his holdings
in Stephanie dot org.
And Cindy announced she was getting rid of all her Dan-obelia,
and did anyone want a tennis racket or a cardigan?

Alice told Michael that she was transplanting herself
to another brand of potting soil
And Jason composed a 3-chord blues song called
“I Can’t Rake Your Leaves Anymore Mama,”
then insisted on playing it
over his speakerphone to Ellen.

The moon rose up in the western sky
with an expression of complete exhaustion,
like a 38-year old single mother
standing at the edge of the playground. Right at that moment

Betty was extracting coil after coil of Andrew’s
emotional intestines
through a verbal incision she had made in his heart,
and Jane was parachuting into an Ani Difranco concert
wearing a banner saying, Get Lost, Mark Resnick.

That’s how you find out:
out of the blue.
And it hurts, baby, it really hurts,
because breaking up is hard to do.

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Shamed Into Action on Healthcare


The Enablers


511 Days Until Mid-term Elections
November 6, 2018

The Republicans care about Healthcare as much as Alac Baldwin cares about the President’s criticism of his impersonations of him. In other words—they don’t! The record is clear that they distain any legislation on the topic. They banded together behind Newt Gingrich to defeat President Clinton’s healthcare reform bill in 1994 and not a single Republican voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

The first time Republicans showed an interest in healthcare was the moment President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law and they immediately vowed to repeal it. You would think that after seven years impassioned legislators would have crafted a bill that all members of their party agreed with and was ready to sign into law. Seven years! But what you wind up with when you are shamed into action is a haphazard bill that nobody is comfortable with, a bill that will hurt the American people by kicking millions off the healthcare rolls, reduce benefits and make premiums skyrocket.

And just watch the promises get tossed out the window for the sake of Trump’s Art of the Deal, which he will twist to make sound good to the uninformed, the same way he did with his inauguration crowd and Obama wiretapping his phone. Judging by recent interviews it’s obvious he hasn’t even read the legislation. Bye, bye healthcare for the working class, indigent, and poor; hello tax credits for those making over $250,000, and windfall for the insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

Here’s the point. If the Republicans somehow, miraculously, pull off a bill that doesn’t blow up their party, which is unlikely, it will be a victory for President Obama because he will have done what nobody had been able to do for decades—make the Republicans care about healthcare.

Countdown: 511 Days until Mid-term elections

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“People don’t use their creativity as they get older. They think this is supposed to be the end of this and the end of that. But you can’t always be so sure that it is the end.” – Anne Porter

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Anne Porter started writing poetry more seriously after her husband died and published her first collection at 83. She lived to be 99.

by Anne Porter

Nobody in the hospital
Could tell the age
Of the old woman who
Was called Susanna

I knew she spoke some English
And that she was an immigrant
Out of a little country
Trampled by armies

Because she had no visitors
I would stop by to see her
But she was always sleeping

All I could do
Was to get out her comb
And carefully untangle
The tangles in her hair

One day I was beside her
When she woke up
Opening small dark eyes
Of a surprising clearness

She looked at me and said
You want to know the truth?
I answered Yes

She said it’s something that
My mother told me

There’s not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love

She then went back to sleep.



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Assault On The Arts

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 5.36.42 PMThe National Gallery of Art opened on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1941. In the dedication speech on opening day President Roosevelt said, “To accept this work today is to assert the purpose of the people of America — that the freedom of the human spirit and human mind which has produced the world’s great art … shall not be utterly destroyed.”

Fast forward seventy-six years and ‘utterly destroying’ the arts is exactly what Donald Trump’s intention with his budget proposal that slashes Arts and Cultural Agencies by nearly $1 billion dollars under the pretext of keeping Americans safe and funding his pet project, the “beautiful” wall (yes, you and I are paying, just look at the budget.)

Here’s the short list of the impact for anyone who appreciates the arts:

  • Eliminates all $148 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and all $148 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Eliminates the $230 million Institute of Museum and Library Services
  • Eliminates the $445 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports public television and radio, including PBS and NPR

To put his budget proposal into perspective, these cuts to Arts and Cultural agencies could be fully restored by reducing the budget increase for Defense by less than 2%, which would still leave nearly a $53 billion increase to the obscene and waste-filled $639 billion Defense budget. Anyone with a sliver of budget sense knows if you want to save money you go after the cash cows, not the low-hanging fruit.

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Ironically, the inspiration behind the National Gallery was a wealthy industrialist like Trump, but unlike the President, Andrew Mellon had vision. He understood there was more to the human spirit than flexing muscles and bragging about wealth. Mellon was only 25 when he got the idea for the gallery on a trip to Europe when he became an enthusiastic art collector and then continued to buy pieces slowly over the decades. In the late 1920s, he served as ambassador to Great Britain, and he was inspired by the National Gallery in London to create something similar in the United States.

In 1930, he had the rare opportunity to purchase art from the Hermitage, the greatest art museum in Russia, at the order of Stalin to raise money for the government by selling valuable pieces. How shortsighted. Mellon purchased 21 paintings, including work by Raphael, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Titian, and Jan van Eyck. In 1936, he wrote to President Roosevelt offering to donate his collection, as well as $15 million to build a museum that would house it. Mellon had the vision for a national museum of the highest quality, and insisted that it should not be named after him, figuring that other art collectors would be more likely to donate to a place called the National Gallery of Art than the Mellon Gallery. Imagine such a selfless leader today.

Admission is always free to the public. More than 4.5 million people visit the National Gallery each year to view its 120,000 pieces of art.

Don’t cut the arts!

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