February 3, 1995

Streisand Defends Political Role of Art

Streisand makes speech

By Sorelle B. Braun

Barbra Streisand used her speech at the Kennedy School's ARCO Forum last night to defend the art world from what she said was a "resurgent reactionary mood" sweeping America.

"Art does not exist only to entertain," Streisand said, attacking conservatives' calls to eliminate federal funding for the arts. "To force us to conform to some rigid notion of mainstream American values is to weaken the very foundation of American democracy."

Streisand said increased public support for the arts was particularly crucial in light of the current political climate.

"So much of what the artist needs to flourish and survive is at risk right now."

Streisand said funding of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting should continue and that House Speaker Newt Gingrich's notion that private donations could provide continued quality arts programming was incorrect.

"All great civilizations have supported the arts," she said. "Art can illuminate, enlighten, inspire. It becomes heat in cold places, light in dark places."

The 52-year-old actress, whose talk was entitled "The Artist As Citizen," said she was first and foremost a "taxpaying, voting, concerned American citizen" who as an artist has a responsibility to voice her political opinions.

"The basic task of the artist is to explore the human condition, to walk in others' shoes...Participation in politics is a natural outgrowth of what we do. It can and should be a responsible use of celebrity. We have the ability to reach people and influence opinions," the entertainer said.

Streisand has been an active campaigner for democratic candidates since George McGovern's 1972 presidential bid.

Streisand at podium

Photo above: Barbra Streisand came to Harvard for a two-day visit, during which she and invited students attended a lunch with John F. Kennedy Jr. as host, and audited a class on constitutional law with Laurence Tribe. Streisand did the homework for Professor Tribe's class.

Her Streisand Foundation, set up in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, has donated over $8 million to a variety of liberal causes, including AIDS research, environmental protection and gay rights activism.

As she walked onto the dais, Streisand looked at the banks of national press cameras and tiers of audience members and mouthed "Wow."

Harvard's Acting President and Dean of the Kennedy School Albert Carnesale introduced the star, calling himself a fan her music.

As Carnesale ran over long history of stage, screen and concert performances, as well as her commitment to political activism, the entertainer pantomimed modest embarrassment, playing to the audience by sneaking under Carnesale's podium to get a glass or water.

Streisand makes passionate speechStreisand, who admits to suffering from stage fright, appeared anxious during the speech and stopped several times during her delivery. She said she was more nervous speaking to the crowd of professors and students than performing in front of thousands of people.

Nonetheless, Streisand's talk garnered her a standing ovation from the standing-room only crowd which included economist John Kenneth Galbraith, Administrative Dean of the Faculty John B. Fox Jr. '59 and Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III.

Audience members said Streisand's responses during the question and answer session were less convincing than the speech she gave off of the TelePrompTer.

"In her prepared speech, she took many stands. But, when it came time for her to expand on them, she seemed uncomfortable expressing her own convictions," said Leah T. Okimoto '98. "It made many of us wonder how valid her claims were."

After the speech, one fan took Streisand's mug of tea as a souvenir, while others waited at the back gates of the Kennedy School, hoping to glimpse Streisand as her entourage headed to the President's House at 17 Quincy Street for dinner.

"I saw her hair," one gushed, as the car sped by, with Streisand and Carnesale squeezed in the backseat.

Streisand's spokesperson, Ken Sunshine, said that Marge Tabankin, head of the Streisand Foundation, encouraged Streisand to visit Harvard after her own experience as an I.O.P. fellow last year.

"She's had a terrific time," Sunshine said. "What she liked most was the interaction with the students."

Sunshine said that Streisand attended classes yesterday. "She had homework, and did it," he said.

Approximately 650 people attended last night's speech, which was covered by over 70 members of the media.

Students who did not get tickets were able to watch the speech in classrooms on closed-circuit TV or on New England Cable News, which broadcast the talk live.


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