Playwright Tony Kushner Stresses the Importance of Arts Education in the Age of Trump

Rebecca Miller- Kate Caphsaw- Stephen Spielberg -Tony Kushner - Mark Harris-Getty-H 2018
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The Arthur Miller Foundation Honors lauded public school arts educators and those who have worked to make their jobs better.

Steven Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Edie Falco and more celebrated the power of public schools' arts education at the inaugural Arthur Miller Foundation Honors on Monday.

Alec Baldwin, who’s on the foundation’s Master Artist Council, hosted the event at New York’s City Winery. Though there was hardly any mention of President Trump from his famed Saturday Night Live impersonator, other attendees certainly didn’t remain apolitical — namely, one of the evening’s honorees.

“There’s nothing more important to a democracy than education. It’s as important as the arts, as good government. In fact, you could really say that everything — culture, society and government — depend on an educated populace,” said playwright Tony Kushner, who received the foundation’s humanitarian award. “[The Arthur Miller Foundation] is focusing on an area of education that is receiving less and less funding and less and less support, and is generally thought of as being a hobby rather than a critical part of who a person is shaping themselves into. And we see what government — uneducated, uncultured barbarians — looks like. It looks really bad, and I think that the Arthur Miller Foundation is devoted to a vision of humanity that is the absolute antithesis of Donald Trump. It’s a great place to be.”

Despite Kushner’s many contributions as an activist himself, he told The Hollywood Reporter that he wasn’t sure he was suitable for the humanitarian award.

“I don’t know that I really feel that I deserve the name ‘humanitarian,’ but I’m proud of any way that I feel that I’ve contributed to talking about issues that I think are important, and any way that my plays and the movies that I’ve worked on and helped raise consciousness about how democracy works, and how critical social and economic justice are to the function of democracy,” Kushner said. “If I’ve contributed that in any way, that would make me a very happy person.”

showed a majority of white evangelicals did not care about the behavior of a president that doesn’t seem that Christian. Donald Trump is the antithesis of everything Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount.""]

He elaborated on what being a humanitarian means to him in his acceptance speech, making sure to squeeze in a few Trump quips, too.

“I don’t think that writing plays qualifies as a humanitarian activity. For one thing, it’s a vocation, it pays the rent. For another, while it’s certifiably a human activity — as human as any other, and much more defensible than many human activities — I have to admit that recently, I’ve grown more uncertain than ever about the moral impact of dreams and visions and illusions," Kushner told the audience. "Don't get me wrong, I still believe theater is the best machine human beings have ever devised for teaching critical consciousness."

Kushner continued, “But truly, these days, everyone who works in any form crediting or manufacturing a delusion and dream must feel uneasy.... It’s not that people can’t grasp the difference between delusion and reality; but rather, after decades of a reactionary politics and anti-politics, some of us have grown certain that a government of people can never form a world in which all people can find a home.... Many of us no longer consider ourselves citizens. Many have abandoned hope for actual leaders — congressman, senators, justices, presidents — and instead, look for bad actors reckless and indifferent enough to life to turn civic society into a spectacle expressive of despair that will consummate itself and all the necessary preconditions for an apocalypse.”

“Jesus Christ. How did this get so grim? I’m sorry,” Kushner said to laughs from the audience. “But Arthur, while never disparaging, was not a stranger to grim. And I’m completely certain we’re all going to feel a little bit better in a couple weeks after the midterms.”

In addition to Kushner, HBO Documentary Films was honored with the legacy award. The evening saw performances from Tituss Burgess and others, though the spotlight was mainly on local teachers and educators.

For example, actor Anthony Ramos brought his mentor who helped launch his career on stage. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have a teacher that cared,” he said. “And I’m so happy to be with my teacher who cared enough to believe in me and pushed me to be the best I can be. I hope we can continue to fight for arts in the public school system and in schools, period.”

Falco shared Ramos’ sentiment, telling THR that “public school teachers and the arts save lives,” including hers. “If you find a teacher who can give you the confidence you might need to take the next step, hold onto them because they can really give you the leg-up that you need,” she said.