Opera legend and arts advocate Beverly Sills told a Wake Forest University audience today that the arts continue to thrive in the United States, despite a lack of support from the government.
“We are where we are in the arts not because our government has ever supported it in any way, shape or form,” said Sills, who chairs the board of New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. “In this present election, neither (presidential) candidate has mentioned the arts once.”
Speaking at Wake Forest’s Opening Convocation, Sills said, “We have accepted the fact that government considers art a frill.”
Sills’ address was the opening event for Wake Forest’s Year of the Arts, a year-long celebration of the arts featuring lectures, concerts, exhibits and a symposium. Sills praised Wake Forest for devoting “a year of its time to celebrating the arts.”
Recognized as one of the best sopranos of the 20th century, Sills retired from singing in 1980 and became an arts administrator. Drawing upon her experience on and off the stage, she addressed one of the key problems with arts events today–the cost of attending performances–and offered a specific suggestion for how to spend National Endowment for the Arts funds.
“There is so much argument over the way moneys at the NEA are being spent,” Sills said. “We should take whatever pittance is given to us and underwrite the cost of seats across the country and let young interested people who want to come to these events attend without having a personal hardship attached to it.”
After describing the difficulties she faced growing up in this country wanting to become an opera singer, Sills reassured the audience that “despite all the bad efforts of all kinds of nutty people, the arts have gone on and on.”
“I urge you, if you are worried about the state of the arts in the United States, we’re okay,” Sills said. “The arts will never die. Art has always been the signature of a civilization.”