Stifling Our Artists

Editorial Notebook

By Jane Eisner

Published January 13, 2010, issue of January 22, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The fourth annual Schmooze conference took place at the hip City Winery in Lower Manhattan on January 11 and 12, bringing together Jewish artists and presenters to debate, discuss and, well, schmooze. There was talk of a “sea change” this year, and not just because of the financial meltdown or the growing popularity of Fox News.

Instead, the panelists in the session I moderated spoke of a palpable sense of fear and retrenchment in the communities they serve and from many of the donors who fund their work. The elections of Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, combined with the vicious international fallout from Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, have created a chilling atmosphere unlike any these veterans have seen in a long time.

And so the Koffler Centre of the Arts in Toronto was forced to sever ties to an exhibit because the artist was involved in anti-Zionist activities. Theater J in Washington, D.C., was condemned for staging a 10-minute play that was slammed by some as “a ten-minute blood libel.” The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s decision to include a sympathetic film about a pro-Palestinian activist who was killed in Gaza as one of its 71 offerings this year caused an uproar in the notoriously tolerant city.

Provocative art that might have raised eyebrows a few years ago now raises bells of alarm.

The boundaries of acceptable discourse have shifted, and those who care about Jewish art and culture are scrambling to understand where the new lines are drawn. Lines do need to be drawn — not every film, play or art installation deserves an airing in a Jewish context, just as not every opinion is suitable to be published in this newspaper.

Besides, there is a cyclical nature to this dynamic: Artists who care deeply about their craft often challenge the status quo, and funders have sought to shape the outcome of work from the time that royalty sponsored statues and symphonies.

Nonetheless, the current chilling atmosphere needs to be recognized and addressed. The Jewish institutional world ought to pay attention to those on culture’s front lines, and have the confidence and courage to allow dissenting voices to be heard and provocative issues to be raised. The fear that this will somehow embolden Israel’s enemies has to be tempered by the knowledge that our survival depends on embracing creativity, not censoring it.






Find us on Facebook!
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.