Survival of the Fittest | Letters | Chicago Reader

Survival of the Fittest 

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I thought about giving Bill Stamets a pass for his September 12 article about Chicago Filmmakers ["Film Threat," Our Town], in which he used an out-of-context snippet from another writer's article (mine) to buttress his musings, but I can't.

Perhaps Mr. Stamets could have begun his agenda-driven piece with a lead that credited Chicago Filmmakers for surviving in the face of diminished funding for the arts, but that wouldn't have been as easy. And perhaps he couldn't have sold a simple profile of Chicago Filmmakers, which in fact comprised the readable, interesting parts of his article.

Nor did I ever espouse some sort of Reaganomic, trickle-down theory of arts funding. A quote in my article did say that art begets art, which is true. A Northbrook Symphony Orchestra patron, liking what she hears, might decide to try the Chicago Sinfonietta, and from there, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This is good.

And money is available. The fact that less of it is going to avant-garde film doesn't mean it's not a good time to be part of the Chicago arts scene. Chicago Filmmakers' Illinois Arts Council funding and National Endowment for the Arts grant were cut, but they weren't alone. Both funding organizations have less money to dole out. Yes, the state did mainline monies to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera. It would be stupid not to lend an assist to two of your most significant, world-class arts institutions when they are completing new homes. This is simple reality.

When there is less money to dole out, everybody gets less, from allowance-seeking kids when a parent gets laid off, to arts funding. Every organization wants to put its dollars where they will do the most good, and like it or not, in an increasingly dollar-competitive arts-funding world, donors are becoming more conservative as monies dry up. This, too, is reality. Yet in the face of all this, groups survive.

Even your article says "smaller arts groups like Chicago Filmmakers have mastered survival tactics that don't include Springfield lobbyists or corporate largesse." This was a fine point to make, and perhaps you could have even done so in the lead, you will permit me being so foolish as to suggest.

And your article ends as poorly as it begins, by stating that Cineplex Odeon is opening new screens in the Chicago area this fall. But what does the expansion of a for-profit movie-house chain have to do with arts funding? Unless Cineplex is battling with Chicago Filmmakers for IAC dollars, what's your point?

Finally, for the record, I don't mind being quoted, nor do I mind having my writings assailed. I do mind these things when they occur out of context. So please get it right the next time, and while you're at it, come up with your own lead.

Kevin M. Williams

Chicago Sun-Times

Bill Stamets replies:

My musings hardly assailed Williams's roundup of swell news from the "big fish" (his words)--organizations like the CSO, Lyric, and MCA. My aim was to look at one of the small fish typically left out of cultural reporting. The avant-garde film scene, in particular, is often misrepresented as a stepping-stone to Hollywood.

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