The Critical Mass

Truth and beauty: Hurricanes and other blowhards is why we need the arts

It’s been a month since the nightmare in Las Vegas.

A month since Puerto Rico was flattened by a hurricane, and still more than 70 percent of the island is without power.

Three weeks since the story broke that Harvey Weinstein, perhaps the biggest film and theater producer in America, had been egregiously sexually harassing women since the late 1970s, news that has led to an eruption of women who have stepped up and said: Me Too.

We install a government as a vehicle to address our largest problems. Yet our elected leaders have done virtually nothing about any of the most-alarming issues of the moment. Increasingly we have to do what we can, as individuals. And many small efforts can add up.

Rick Simpson, who’s a friend, and the 6 p.m. Thursday host of Gumbo Variations on WRUR-FM (88.5), has organized “Benefit for the Displaced,” 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Camp Eastman Conference Center, 1558 Lake Shore Blvd. The $10 donation per person goes to the displaced victims of Hurricane Maria and the California wildfires. “We have good friends who live in Santa Rosa (thankfully they did not lose their house, but many of their friends & neighbors did),” Simpson wrote in the invite. “And a Rochester neighbor and friend has family in Puerto Rico. We have good organizations lined up to distribute funds.” Musicians are turning out and there’ll be an open mic set up, with folks invited to bring a dish to pass and a favorite beverage. Attendance is limited to 80 because of the size of the building, so RSVP at ricmon31@aol.com.

I see other benefits this weekend. An artist reception with Rochester’s Darren Brennessel at 5 p.m. Friday at the Multi-use Community Cultural Center, 142 Atlantic Ave., followed at 7:30 p.m. by Linda Starkweather’s one-woman show, Travelling with a Broken Compass. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of art and the tickets to the show ($15 advance, $18 at the door) will go to relief efforts in Puerto Rico. And “Musical Relief for Puerto Rico,” at Downtown United Presbyterian Church, 121 N. Fitzhugh St., is 12:30 p.m. Saturday, with all donations going to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

The arts does this. Because we’re shocked that disaster can reduce Americans to third-world conditions, and our government is unable, and unwilling, to step up and offer proper aid. Instead, our president mocks the Puerto Rican people, calling them lazy and unwilling to do things for themselves.

And when the government does send help? Whitefish, a Montana company with only two full-time employees – but connections to the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke – was awarded a $300 million contract to get the power lines back up. The contract was cancelled by the governor of Puerto Rico when people started asking questions about how a small company with no experience in such disaster-relief projects landed that job.

And look who’s on the job. We get a White House chief of staff, John Kelly, who revealed Monday that he thinks the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but about a “lack of ability to compromise.” That same day, three key players from the president’s campaign were indicted or pleaded guilty on charges that emerged from the investigation into Russian interference in the election, with more indictments certain to follow. And as you read this, Congress is plotting a bill in which close to 80 percent of its tax cuts will go to the richest one percent of the population.

To put it in terms that some of these guys might understand, we pay good money for leadership. Yet we get nothing in return. We’re getting ripped off. I’d rather buy a piece of art, or hand $10 to Rick Simpson while Fred Vine plays guitar, because I like truth and beauty. And I’ll know my money’s doing some good.

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