Arts Funding, Anyone?

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Here's the Cliff Notes of a new work now at REDCat.

A woman gives the audience a slideshow tour of her beloved Rotterdam.
There's a statue there there she hates.
She's joined by three actors also from Rotterdam.
They begin reading emails while sitting in white lawn chairs.
Their emails are about the statue, arts funding, and revenge.
They got a grant to come to LA and make a theater piece.
They don't know what to do, but they have to do something.
They get up, go backstage and come back out in grotesque costumes.
Some of them are naked.
They perform a pornographic, abbreviated version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Of course, that captures about as much of the new theater piece Looking for Paul as saying Thanksgiving is about pilgrims and Indians.

Looking for Paul is the result of a three week residency at REDCat by the Dutch theater company Wunderbaum. The show is really about questions: Who should fund art? What's obscene? Should art make us think?

At the center of Looking for Paul is a statue by Los Angeles sculptor and performance artist Paul McCarthy. About 10 years ago, McCarthy created a $400,000 bronze piece for the city of Rotterdam as part of their public art program. The statue's official name is “Santa Claus” but it's also referred to as “gnome butt plug.” It's a charming traditional Santa with a bell in one hand and what appears to be a Christmas tree in the other, but it's not a tree. You could predict that the statue would cause an uproar and fuel a Mapplethorpe-like debate about Dutch public art funding.

The new play Wunderbaum uses the statue and McCarthy's ethos as a doorway into the politics of art -- both financial and aesthetic. But while the theater piece left me underwhelmed, the questions it raised blew me away.

Take this simple fact. The State of California is ranked 50th in arts spending at $4.3 million per year. Minnesota dwarfs us with a $30 million budget or a whopping $5.80 per person. And you don't want to compare either state internationally. The Netherlands, with a population roughly half that of California, spends close to $82 per person.

$82 per person versus California's 12 cents. That's more obscene than anything Wunderbaum could do on stage.

What's really scary -- we might be leading the way. With Europe facing the financial abyss, the American arts funding model might be the wave of the future.

If the numbers about arts funding scare you, get involved. Check out

But, hey it's almost Thanksgiving. Don't we have something to be thankful for? Yes, the wonderful REDCat at Disney Hall and the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department. In the absence of David Sefton and the UCLA International Theater Festival, REDCat's work with international artists is more important than ever. And LA Cultural Affairs is funding international artists to perform and collaborate with LA artists. Thank you.

Up next at REDCat, the Wooster Group performs their adaptation of Tennesee Williams' Vieux Carré starting December 2 through December 12. Not to be missed!

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Note: REDCat is offering a limited number of $25 RUSH TICKETS to the Thursday, December 2 and Tuesday, December 7 performances. These tickets will be made available for in-person sales two hours prior to curtain at REDCAT's box office, limit two tickets per person. ( or 213-237-2800)

Banner image: Santa Claus by Paul McCarthy