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Letter to Nikki Haley

Yesterday I was scrolling through twitter, and came across this tweet shared by my dear friend and artist and fellow South Carolinian Donnetta Lavinia Grays.

It was something from the former Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley.

It said:

These are the items included in the stimulus bill:

$75 mill for public television/radio

$25 mil for the Kennedy Center

$75 mil for the Natl Endowment for the Arts

$75 mill for the Natl Endowment for the Humanities

How many more people could have been helped with this money?


I read it a second time just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I wasn’t. It seemed to be all there. I thought about writing something immediately, but I felt the need to sit with the idea for an evening. I did, and now I want to try and make some sense of it. Because I am a human and an artist. And that is what I do.

I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. I tried to convince myself that as soon as the bill had been passed, a rogue poet set up shop outside her office and just started cranking out in-your-face haikus, bragging about all this artistic stimulus money in verses of five and seven and five. I wanted so badly to believe that a clarinetist was following her around, lips wet and ready to go, playing some really aggressive Brahms, just to make sure that Governor Halley knew that the artists had won the day. I wanted to think that Nikki was tweeting in self-defense, and that if only that repertoire theatre company would just cool it with the Tennessee Williams One Acts that she wouldn’t have to go off and tweet her disgust at this money these artists had swindled out of the bloated federal government.

As much as I wanted to believe this was the case, I just knew it wasn’t true.

It was her use of the word people. That’s what made me blind with rage.

I’ve been involved in the arts my entire life. I’ve done theatre and music. I was close to qualifying for a dance minor in undergrad. I’ve written books and plays and blogs and poems and jokes. I’ve never dabbled in the visual arts but as my students can attest a note session with me is probably going to include doodles and weird drawings. Anything to keep my mind focused as much as humanely possible.

If I had to stake my hard earned artistic knowledge on anything, it is that people is what the arts are all about. One could make the case that art is one the things that separates us from the animals and makes us humans at all. I am not going to do that here. I don’t have nearly enough Patreon followers to make that happen.

The arts are all about being human. And at it’s best, it’s all about what it means to be human at a particular moment in time.

And correct me if I’m wrong, but we are facing a particularly challenging time for humans at the present. A virus without a cure is out there locking us all away from each other. Parking lots are empty. Bars are closed. And if it wasn’t for the films and tv and books and music created by human artists for the other humans of society, we’d all be watching nothing but Tiger King on endless loop and trust me when I say that none of us would be human after that!

So for Nikki Haley to attack this small sum of money given to the arts as some how separate from the human experience feels particularly cruel at the time.

Almost everyone in my world is consumed with the the prospect of keeping theatres and arts organizations afloat. You know, those things that make cities attractive for the humans that live there. Museums are empty. Book stores are hardly considered essential. Tours are stopped. Plays are cancelled. The fact that the arts are so human is exactly why we are some of the people being hit hardest of all.

And trust me, artists are tough people. We are not wallowing in the streets, feeling pity about Haley’s assessment. We don’t really care. We’ve got too much work to do. Too much life to make sense of. But this is someone of stature. Someone who I am sure wants to be president one day. And on the off chance that someone she knows might read this, let her know that her assessment is ridiculous.

She should be better than that.

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