The catalog for New York City Opera’s 2010-2011 arrived by post yesterday and, as usual, the Met’s poor cousin on perpetual life support has cobbled together a few interesting-looking programs to accompany the usual Donizetti and Strauss crowdpleasers. There is the long-delayed premier of A Quiet Place, Leonard Bernstein’s final stage work, the New York premiere of Seance on a Wet Afternoon, the first opera of Stephen Schwartz who did the Broadway hits Wicked, Godspell and Pippin, and–most intriguing of all–an evening called Monodramas–three one acts by John Zorn, Morton Feldman and Arnold Schoenberg.

But, what caught my eye was the news (to me) that the New York State Theater, the NYCO’s home, is now called the David H. Koch Theater. David Koch is a familiar figure on the New York social and philanthropy scene. He and his brother own Koch Industries, the second-biggest private company in the United States. He is a multi-billionaire who trails only our esteemed mayor as the wealthiest man in New York. He has given millions of dollars to various arts organizations over the years. He has given many, many more millions of dollars to fund radical right-wing causes. He and his brother are the deep pockets behind the “grassroots” Tea Party Movement and virtually every other campaign to destabilize the American government and purge it of “liberal” influences.

When Koch ran for vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket, his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools—in other words, as Frank Rich notes, “..any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes.” Further proof that the acorn does not fall far from the tree, the Kochs’ father–Fred–was on the governing board of the John Birch Society. Fomenting civil unrest and paying entertainers like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh to  confuse the rabble about who their true enemies are has been a Koch family enterprise for at least 50 years.  In tandem with Rupert Murdoch, they own the mind of every new Timothy McVeigh and abortion clinic bomber this country will produce in the next several decades.

Many artsy-fartsy New York beneficiaries of Koch’s arts benevolence were aware of his conservative leanings and although they widely considered him a jerk on a personal level, they chose not to delve too deeply into his other causes for fear of losing a sugar daddy. I didn’t know is not a legal defense but it makes a convenient excuse sometimes. That changed last week with Jane Mayer’s devastating profile of the Koch brothers in the New Yorker.

Nobody in the arts and music world can now claim they don’t know.  What will be most interesting is how they choose to react.

22 Responses to “When Your Benefactor is a Fascist”
  1. Joseph Holbrooke says:

    David, despite gloomy emotions all the data shows that things are going extraordinarily well for our species. Huge challenges, bright future. You might want to check out Has Rosling: What is truly amazing is that rich liberals like me and you can choose to commit our lives to helping others and improving the world if we want.

  2. david f says:

    Oh dear… flame war all over new music land…

    I’m moved from my usual lurking to make a few observations:

    > While it’s true that fascism and libertarianism are pretty far apart on the ideological spectrum, the realistic effect of being a libertarian in contemporary American politics would have the effect of enabling the fascist fringe. If you are espousing the evils of government while also dismantling the social safety net and relaxing gun regulations and police/FBI/security funding, how long do you think it would take the apocalyptic crazies to run amok? Our history has a wide streak of xenophobic Know Nothingism which is (sort of) kept in check by government and our impossibly well-crafted Bill of Rights. Being a Libertarian means being a Corporatist means we’ll do anything to make money which (in my opinion) makes fascism a much more likely scenario…

    > It’s a dangerous game to lay blame on organizations for their donors’ actions. However, this is a very high-profile situation. I guess I’m not really opposed to Lincoln Center/NYCO taking this wannabe despot’s cash. However, I think renaming the theater for him is a step beyond the pale. What better symbol of our country’s sad decline into plutocracy than the fact that this laudable venue was once dedicated to the people (New York State Theater) but now bears the name of a full-fledged member of the inherited corporatocracy???

  3. david toub says:

    Joseph, I’d be fine with electric cars, solar-powered and wind-powered homes and corporations, etc We don’t need petroleum, and it’s a very limited resource anyway. As a vegetarian, i’m fine without ranching, and paper can be recycled so no one should need decimate the forests in Washington State, etc. Complex future it is, but promising? I think we’re more likely to cause the extinction of our own species than herald in an era of love, kindness and generalized happiness. Homo sapiens is the most brutal, senseless and cruel species on this planet, despite having a relatively large cranium and bipedal ambulation. In other words, people as a whole kinda suck. There are bright spots to be sure, and the arts are extremely important to my own happiness. But we can really do without the petroleum, etc. Most people I know in the Netherlands bike everywhere-not surprisingly, they also have a much lower incidence of obesity (I have yet to see anyone overweight or obese in The Netherlands). And Iceland is using its vast supplies of geothermal energy to do away with oil dependence-there is no reason other countries couldn’t use wind, solar, geothermal etc. that have zero carbon footprints. But then, that would really make the Koch’s, Haliburtons, Cheneys, etc. of the world less money. Bummer.

  4. Steve Layton says:

    I can’t wait until it becomes the Sarah Louise Palin Theater… 😉

  5. bgn says:

    Well, we discussed this pretty thoroughly on Parterre Box, and the general consensus was better the money go to renovating the New York State Theater than to setting up yet another indistinguishable right-wing think tank.

  6. Gail says:

    The NYCO did not profit a bit from the Koch money. The gift was for the theater renovation which is the home of both the NYC ballet as well as NYC Opera. I only wish that David Koch would give $100 million to the NYCO!

  7. Joseph Holbrooke says:

    If you don’t like petroleum, chemicals, energy, asphalt, natural gas, plastics, fibers, minerals, fertilizers, ranching, paper, and all the related innovations that have helped drag this brutal species of ours out of caves towards a complex but promising future you might try boycotting Koch products. Or you could just stick to name calling.

  8. timwyer says:

    There has been ample opposition to the Bush administration by the Koch sponsored Cato Institute. Maybe you should do some of your own research instead of relying on NYT articles.

  9. Perhaps the situation could viewed better as an opportunity. Suppose the Board of the NYCO goes to the Koch brothers and says they are willing to renounce all government funding and operate completely on private donations – to be the showcase for getting government out of the arts. All the Koch brothers have to do is get their rich friends to kick in – or put Koch money where the Koch mouth is – and provide all the needed funds for every complete season going forward.

    So what eventuates is an arts organization that operates without any government help. Maybe it would be the best musical thing ever – develop a little competition with the Met and maybe private capitalist money will give NYCO a solid artistic life. Just as the libertarians claim.


    There would be a lot of rich guy interference about what gets performed and it turns into a joke.

    Might be worth finding out what would actually happen. I’d like to see the mega-rich actually create something of beauty instead of complaining about how badly the government does it.

  10. Jerry, I advise you to drop the theory. What’s the point? Tendentious arguments make those who declaim them look bad.

    The issue is worth arguing; City Opera, IMO, is a worthy establishment, and their survival depended directly and indirectly on Koch money, for whom the theater is now named. It’s worth talking about because it’s important, complex and there is NO ANSWER to it. Artists and institutions rely on patronage, and the fortunes that make patronage possibly are invariably tainted or even execrable. Write about that.

    The political labels in this convo represent typical American political ignorance, as well as the desire to toss labels around as insults, without meaning. Depending on Wikipedia definitions is FAIL. Koch is not a fascist, nor a libertarian. Obama is not a socialist nor a corporatist. Plus, Obama doesn’t belong here. Koch is a plutocrat who spends money to both advance his own material gain at the general expense of society, i.e. something close to a businessman (and businessmen are not capitalists or libertarians, they abhor competition and love regulations that protect them from it). He also favors the opera, to some extent. And that he seeks to rationalize global warming as possibly a benefit, or at least a non-catastrophe, might indicate that his conscience perhaps nags.

    I’ve been in the theater numerous times with press tickets and enjoyed the improved sound and the comfortable seats. And I’m grateful that City Opera has a home. And I feel it’s temporary, because global warming will not destroy the earth, just ourselves and our institutions. David Koch is helping both things happen. What does that make him?

  11. Jerry Bowles says:

    I don’t mean to suggest that arts organizations shouldn’t take Koch’s money or that artists or audiences should boycott an institution or a production simply because of whose name is on the building. In a more perfect world, we probably wouldn’t have a Carnegie Hall or a Morgan Library, both of which are national treasures. I’m for playing Wagner in Israel. I think it’s terrific that Elton John sang at Rush Limbaugh’s most recent wedding and charged him a million bucks for doing so. I’ve had a million dollars worth of fun forwarding the picture of the two of them together to all my right wing relatives and friends. As long as he has no say in programming or production, I’m perfectly comfortable with Koch buying whatever legitimacy he can for his extremist agenda–now that that agenda is well-known to the arts people who are courting him. At the same time, I wish we had a few more Jane Mayers to out the other billionaire seditionists in our midst.

  12. gabriel says:

    I’m pretty sure i know what a “fascist” is (for instance, I know that they’re pretty much the opposite of libertarians), but I’m still trying to figure out what the hell is a “facist” and whether I should be afraid of them.

  13. Chris Becker says:

    “Nobody in the arts and music world can now claim they don’t know. What will be most interesting is how they choose to react.”

    There’s a leap being made here that I can’t get with. Or maybe don’t understand.

    When I fly into Houston, I sometimes land at an airport named after our most recent former President. I have serious issues with the elder and junior Bush. But landing at that airport doesn’t make me, and artist, complacent in State sanctioned torture or the bungling of emergency response to the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

    John Zorn has spent many years creating alternative sources of support, exposure, and revenue for artists who do not fit into a corporate mold. I know many other artists who run independent record labels, play benefits for causes they believe in, volunteer their time for people less fortunate, etc (actually, many of the people I’ve met in Houston fit this description…).

    So should Zorn not play a hall named after Koch because he may or his audience may disagree with Koch’s politics? What if he doesn’t? His work outside of music – as an advocate of Jewish culture and history for instance – speaks volumes. His life’s work has created an alternative structure – festivals, a record label, several books – to that of a Koch funded media outlet. (Alternative – kind of like Sequenza21!)

    Maybe it’s a good thing he’s in there next to Schoenberg and Feldman?

    I personally don’t think the name on the Koch hall brands every audience member, administrative employee, janitor, and visiting artist as a fascist, politically or morally weak, and/or naive.

  14. david toub says:

    Michael (do you have a last name?)-it’s a fine line between the Ron Pauls of the world and the Sarah Palin extreme. Once you take the position that government is inherently evil and largely unnecessary, you open the door to the Aryan Brotherhood, Posse Commitatus etc. Racism and xenophobia are largely what’s driving the tea party-sorry, but that’s my honest belief. The alternate explanation for why the right didn’t bitch about the Bush administration’s government spending, illegal war in Iraq, limitations on civil liberties, etc. is that he was a rich, White conservative. Even if W wasn’t conservative enough for some, there was always that creepy Cheney dude and many others who were extremely conservative and warmongering. Obama, for all his faults (one of which is his conservative Democratic values as opposed to true progressivism), scares the living shit out of many of these people. He’s biracial, hails from Chicago (which, being Midwestern, I would think would be part of the “real America,” but like Hawaii, I guess only Illinois areas south of Chicago seem to count), opposed the Iraq war, etc. It’s easy for them to demonize him as “the other.” Let’s see, he’s supposedly a socialist, communist, totalitarian fascist, Kenyan Hawaiian Muslim who is the most pro-choice person in government. All fo these, other than his being from Hawaii, are totally false. He’s pro-choice, but the most pro-choice? I don’t think so. And he’s quite uncomfortable with gay rights, which has allowed the libertarian wing of the Repuglican party to take the lead on this issue, which is sad.

    Anyway, government can indeed be evil. It can also be a force for great good. It depends who’s in the government. Without government, we would have anarchy. Limiting government to defense and a very few other things, as the Libertarians want, is impractical and also ignores the great injustices in our society that government can, and should, correct. Back when this was a White Christian country that committed genocide against Native Americans, enslaved Blacks, forced American citizens of Japanese decent into detention camps and killed untold numbers of civilians in one fell swoop with two nuclear bombs, such notions might have been quaint, since the White Christians held all the power and could make sure any of their descendants could get by on family money and connections without the intervention of government. That’s not true anymore, fortunately.

  15. Elaine Fine says:

    Isn’t the whole idea behind the Koch brothers (and the people who wish they were the Koch brothers) to use their wealth to “sway” people in power to make (and keep) laws that allow them to keep their money in their pockets and in tax-deductible PACs that help their interests?

    Watching the events of the day is kind of like alternately watching scenes from poorly-scripted, poorly-cast, and poorly-directed versions of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” Imagine the graphic possibilities of the playing cards, with you-know-who as one of the queens?

  16. Michael says:

    As far as where were people when Bush was around…they were asleep at the wheel because the good times (relatively speaking) were still rolling. Americans were under the illusion that we could have our cake and eat it too.

    The financial crisis woke everyone up to the fiscal crisis we face. That might not be fair for Obama, but he’ll be responsible for how he handles it. So far Obama’s solution was to take the spending to an even greater level than Bush, which has people worried and rightfully so given what we’ve seen going on in Europe.

    This isn’t a Republican or Democrat issue. Both parties have been reckless with our fiscal policy. Obama is making many of the same mistakes Bush made – again this isn’t partisan. People need to view the world and politics with more granularity, categorizing everything into Republican and Democrat just reduces everyone choices, the debate, and the flexibility of our leaders to think and act independently.

    At some point we have to get our fiscal house in order, because the numbers don’t add up. Even liberals have to acknowledge that some of the promises we’ve made in the form of entitlements will have to be rolled back…that or they will be inevitably inflated away in the long run.

    On this point (fiscal policy), I think the libertarians have their hands clean – they didn’t support Bush’s wars or his growth of domestic government.

    For a brief moment in the early stages of the Tea party, the libertarians seemed to be carrying the day. Unfortunately, it’s been co-opted by the Palins of the world. But it’s not clear to me that the Tea Party’s agenda is to resume Bush’s neoconservative agenda.

  17. Daniel says:

    I was not aware that political beliefs could attach themselves to money in general. Careful, be sure to wear gloves when you handle it or capitalism might start making economic sense… the horror…

  18. david toub says:

    Whether they meet the definition of fascist is not the issue here. What is, I think, is hypocrisy. These folks are free to do whatever they want with their vast money, so long as it’s legal, just as the Hearsts, Murdochs, Trumps, etc. have done and continue to do. However, too much of our country and society is ultimately controlled by corporations and money. Money makes all the difference in our capitalist society. The problem is that it leads to a situation where those with money can control information, votes (thanks to our illustrious Supreme Court last year), etc. Is that fascism? At the very least, it is the antithesis of libertarianism, no?

    I mention hypocrisy in that, while I understand the desperate need for our arts organizations to obtain funding, accepting donations from, and naming buildings for, extreme right-wing funders seems to me hypocritical and ultimately counterproductive. Who lobbied for eliminating the NEA outright in the 90’s? The right wing of this country. If arts organizations accept funding from these folks, especially folks like the Koch’s, then what will they do when that funding is threatened should they decide to program something that is offensive to right-wing sensibilities. Personally, I really thought Piss Christ was a beautiful piece of art, but even if I didn’t, I would have still fought efforts to remove funding from museums that showed it.

    So yes, many of these arts groups are not standing on principles. Sure, they probably suppose that it’s better to survive on the Koch’s money than perish without it. But I bet that if they took a stand and held firm, others would fill the gap and then some.

    And while perhaps not meeting the “wikipedia” definition of fascism, using one’s monetary influence to extort compliance with conservative mores strikes me as pimping and even cultural rape. But that’s just the leftist in me speaking I guess.

  19. Jerry Bowles says:

    Sorry, I don’t get out much these days . My theory is if a corporatist like Obama is a socialist, then Mr, Koch must be a fascist. My experience with “liberatarians” is that they are really totalitarians in sheep’s clothing–making nice with liberals on selected social issues as a means to achieve their agenda. I do not believe for a second that much of the nation is “worried about debt and the size of government.” If so, where were they when George Bush was starting two off-the-books wars and giving old people like me an “unfunded” prescription plan? That is a bogus issue used to cover the really ugly nativist, anti-immigration, Obama is a Muslim socialist terrorist hysteria that is gripping the country. Lazy? Story of my life.

  20. Christian says:

    Uh-oh, Michael brought out the big guns … quoted Wikipedia and everything!

    Before we get into a fascism vs. libertarianism debate, I’d just ask our libertarian-minded friends to read the New Yorker article in its entirety and then read Frank Rich’s column this past weekend in the NY Times on the Kochs. The reason I’d imagine that Jerry is using strong language is that both pieces reveal some very scary stuff about the Kochs’ activities. If you want to hair-split about adjectives, then at least come ready to discuss some real sources.

    No, we’re not Politico, but this is an issue that’s well worth discussing here on Sequenza 21, as it has a great deal of impact on arts funding and raises a number of questions about the ethics of fundraising.

    It’ll be interesting to see if the New Yorker piece will cause any repercussions in the arts community.

    How will John Zorn or Steven Schwartz feel about being presented at City Opera once they learn more about one of its principal donors?

    Are arts organizations hurting so much right now that they can’t afford principles?

    If you’re an arts organizer, have you ever had to draw the line and refuse a donation because of ethical considerations?

  21. Jerry, this is lazy. While I won’t stand with the above commentator, throwing around the word “fascist” is simply that, lazy. It has an inherent and important meaning and historical context. Koch may be more than dislikable, and even appalling, but calling him a fascists isn’t even criticism, it’s empty sloganeering. And by the way, it was called the Koch theater last season as well. Like I said, lazy.

  22. Michael says:

    You don’t even understand the term fascism. It’s practically the antithesis of the kind libertarianism that the Kochs support.

    From Wikipedia, fascists “claim that culture is created by the collective national society and its state, that cultural ideas are what give individuals identity, and thus they REJECT individualism…and justify a totalitarian state as a means to represent the nation in its entirety.” Meanwhile libertarians advocate “individual liberty of thought and action.[1] Libertarians oppose coercive authority, especially that of the state. Many libertarians support the non-aggression principle which holds that individuals should not infringe upon the freedom of others.”

    I’ll presume that in your reductionist world the massive distinction between neoconservatives and libertarians escape you, thus leaving you to conflate the two and then file them both under your false definition of fascism, which probably equate with some personal vague notion of “far right wing.”

    But neoconservatives and libertarians represent different wings of the conservative coalition, and generally only align on domestic fiscal policy. Unlike the Bush years, where social and neo conservatives reigned and libertarians receded, the current environment is conducive to a libertarian resurgence as much of the nation is worried about debt and the size of government.

    Libertarians and the Kochs, therefore, are way to the left of neoconservatives on social issues (gay marriage, abortion, etc) and national defense, and perhaps more to the right when it comes to the size of domestic government (they want it smaller). In any event, the fascist label is not remotely credible, unless you want to depart entirely from its actual meaning.

    I hope that helps.