February 08, 2009

My letter to John McCain

Dear Mr. McCain --

It has recently come to my attention that you said: “$50 million in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts — all of us are for the arts,” McCain said. “Tell me how that creates any significant number of jobs?"

I understand you are not aware of how funding for the arts creates jobs. So, I'd like to tell you what I do for a living. I am a playwright and I have, in the past, received funding from the NEA for projects I created by, about and for my home state of West Virginia.

To give you an idea of how even a small four-person play can create jobs, I’d like to explain how my most recent production here in Los Angeles rippled through this community.

Directly involved in the production were a set designer and her builders, lighting, costume and sound designers, a props master, a stage manager, a director, actors, understudies, photographers, videographers, a publicist, producers etc. All told twenty-three people were directly employed by this play that had a six-week run.

Rippling out, just for our opening night alone, we also employed a valet service, a caterer and waitstaff, additional photographers and videographers not to mention the numerous news outlets who sent their employees to cover the event generating work for journalists, reviewers and paparazzi.

Rippling further out, our audience members often had dinners and drinks before or after each performance bringing business to the restaurants and bars that surrounded the theatre. Considering the poor state of our economy, it was business desperately needed and welcomed by these locally-owned establishments.

We were one show running for six weeks and yet our presence directly and indirectly affected hundreds of people. Now multiply that by the hundreds of stages that are lit every night of the week just in Los Angeles alone. Now multiply that by all the stages across the country.

On each of those stages, in the wings of those theatres, in the seats, people have gathered, people are employed, people are moved because one writer, sitting alone in a room, received a letter from the NEA, received a check from the NEA that allowed them one more month of rent, one more chance to put the words on the page, one more chance to create something beautiful, something that may live beyond us all to bridge the gap between present and future, between cultures, between art and commerce.
Thank you so much for asking what I do. I certainly hope you will do everything in your power to keep the arts very much alive in America.


Susan Johnston

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