“What the fuck?” Those were the first three simple words that came to mind when I read about the decision the Pittsburgh Opera made last week. The opera, in their infinite wisdom, decided to give Governor Tom Corbett and his wife a “Joint Lifetime Achievement Award” in education. Did you get that? IN EDUCATION. In an attempt to quell the public relations firestorm this decision made, the Pittsburgh Opera published the following on their Facebook page:
The Joint Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes Gov. and Mrs. Corbett’s public service careers and support of the arts through Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Mrs. Corbett has served with PCA for 10 years, and Governor Corbett oversees the budget. Consistent and long-standing PCA funding is critical to our ability to provide opera education programs, free community programs, and to keep our starting ticket price at $10. PCA funding is significant not just to us, but to arts organizations statewide.
Thank you for sharing your passion for the arts and for education. We, too, hope for the restoration of arts funding and education funding.
Where can I even begin to respond?
Well, the story began last month in Pittsburgh with controversy concerning who would receive Pennsylvania’s new lottery contract. The company originally slated to receive Pennsylvania’s five-year, 183 million dollar contract was Brunner, a Pittsburgh based advertising agency. Brunner and the state had inked the deal earlier this year so Brunner began hiring employees and vendors. The state, who is in the process of privatizing the Pennsylvania Lottery, found problems and discrepancies during last year’s bidding process and decided to cancel the contract. Since the contract between Pennsylvania State Lottery and Brunner was cancelled, MARC USA, the previous contract holder, was given a one year extension on their expired contract. MARC USA had already filed a lawsuit that raised concerns over the selection process. Michele Fabrizi, President and CEO of MARC USA, was quoted by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette saying: “MARC USA is thrilled to continue our work with the Pennsylvania Lottery to benefit older Pennsylvanians. We look forward to helping the lottery to achieve the kind of record-breaking results it has enjoyed since our partnership began in 2002.”
Now, you’re probably sitting here and asking yourself, “What exactly does the Pennsylvania Lottery have to do with the Pittsburgh Opera?” The main connection between the two is Michele Fabrizi. Michele Fabrizi is the CEO of a company that benefitted from political pandering and shady business practices that “knee-capped” their competition, but it also turns out that Ms. Fabrizi is the Chair of the Pittsburgh Opera Board of Directors. So the political connections between the Governor–who has been cutting education to the bone–and the Chair of the Pittsburgh Opera’s Board of Directors, Michele Fabrizi, need to be called out because of the award the governor is receiving.
In the press statement above, the Pittsburgh Opera claims that Governor Corbett and his wife are responsible for keeping ticket prices at 10 dollars and that the governor supports the arts through his public service. However, if you look at the 2011 budget and the 2012 proposed budget, you would realize that that statement is a crock. In his 2011 budget proposal, the governor proposed a 6 million dollar cut to the Pennsylvania council on the Arts, from 8.62 million dollars to 2.5 million dollars, and his 2012 budget proposed an 8.17 million dollar cut to the program.
Lastly, the systematic destruction of the state’s public education system, the 1.1 billion dollars in education cuts, will have lasting effects on students throughout the state. A Pittsburgh regional blog, the Yinzeraction, cited a survey conducted by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials. The survey concluded that 44% of the state’s school districts eliminated courses in the arts, music and foreign language departments. Two examples that the Yinzeraction pointed out was that of Pittsburgh CAPA, a public high school specifically for those who want to go have a profession in the arts, and Taylor Allderdice. Pittsburgh CAPA had to cut private music lessons and Taylor Alldredice is laying off their marching band director.
So, Pittsburgh Opera, this is the best you could do? An award for a man who is systematically gutting the arts and education? Really? But their own public statement points to a different motive: “PCA funding is significant not just to us, but to arts organizations statewide.” So, bribe the governor in hopes that he might go soft on you? Why not seal the deal on the lucrative advertising contract with the PA Lottery while you’re at it. I’m just sayin’.
Sean Kitchen | Raging Chicken Press Social Media Envoy, Kutztown University student, co-founder of Occupy Kutztown