Why Does the Obama Administration Hate the Arts?

This just in from Seattle’s On the Boards, where Vivarium Studio‘s beloved little gem L’Effet de Serge is supposed to be playing later this month:

We are writing to let you know that we are having to consider the possibility of canceling a production after receiving the news that the visas for our next performers, France’s Vivarium Studio, may not be issued. In our 34 year history we have brought hundreds of foreign artists to the US and this is the first time that we have encountered this kind of visa difficulty.

OtB submitted visa applications for Vivarium Studio in early February, more than the required time for these kinds of applications, and have finally received notice today (4/1) that the visas for artist travel to the US may be denied. We have worked tirelessly, especially over the past 2 weeks, to ensure that these visa would be approved, enlisting legal help from several prominent immigration lawyers and congressional offices and foreign consulate offices. This news is of particular shock, as the artists were approved to perform elsewhere in the US just this past January.

This is, of course, not the first time recently we’ve encountered the issue of visa troubles for foreign artists. Just in March, La MaMa had to push back the opening of Irish Modern Dance Theater’s Fall and Recover over visa issues. The Journal had the complete story, as we noted in The Digest a couple weeks ago. Apparently, in a courageous attempt to keep artists out of the country, the Obama administration has radically increased the level of scrutiny for artist visas, justly determining artist visas to be a major area of abuse. The Journal had some choice quotes pertaining to scrutiny of IMDT’s visa applications, for a show that features survivors of torture:

Given the multi-ethnic composition of the group and the universal subject matter of the work to be performed, USCIS is unsure whether the term ‘cultural’ applies in this case.

Why exactly the Obama administration thinks this is important is somewhat beyond me. As a resident of South Brooklyn, where the Russian mafia freely exploits the J-1 visa program to supply right-off-the-boat “talent” to strip clubs in Astoria, I think that, ahem, there might be bigger fish to fry than artist visas. Vivarium Studio, for instance, has already performed in the US, winning praise as an audience favorite at the 2010 Under the Radar Festival. And of course the company is from the rather un-radical, un-offensive nation of France, inevitably leading us to conclude that DHS’s review process is becoming increasingly arbitrary and capricious, which is a very legalistic way of saying they’re full of shit and should be worried about the new practices.

So please, if you have a moment, consider writing DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, who oversees the US office of Citizenship and Immigration Services, at janet.napolitano(at)dhs.gov [EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s come to our attention that Sec. Napolitano’s public email has been disabled], as well as the office’s director, Alejandro Mayorkas at alejandro.mayorkas(at)dhs.gov.

4 thoughts on “Why Does the Obama Administration Hate the Arts?”

  1. Jody Oberfelder says:

    Agreed! I will write a letter of support!

  2. Jim Anderson says:

    This is unbelieveable. I too will write a letter. Having seen and participated in the show in Minneapolis, is it a loss to the Seattle cultural scene that this has happened. Please join me in writing a note to the addresses above if the denial of visas to artists offends you in any way.

  3. Kevin Bitterman says:

    I urge people to consult the following sites, which serve as excellent resources for the field. Theatre Communications Group and members of the Performance Arts Alliance have been very active in this conversation, and have made great strides with USCIS. As practitioners in the filed, you are encouraged to stay informed and engaged in this process, too. Visit the Artists From Abroad website for the most current info on fileing visa petitions: http://www.artistsfromabroad.org/ and engage in the advocacy issues related to this issue at: https://secure3.convio.net/paa/site/Advocacy?cmd=

  4. Laura Colby says:

    To clarify, it is not the "Obama administration" that is causing this visa delay. It is a civil servant who is processing hundreds of visas each week and may have absolutely ZERO experience in the LIVE performing arts. In fact, the person who reviewed this particular application may never have set foot in a theater! The fact that those reviewing such applications often have little or no arts experience or training and are therefore (p=most likely) not equipped to make a judgement regarding "artistic or cultural relevance or excellence" is an issue that the consortium of service organizations in our field has been bringing to the table with the USCIS as we attempt to make the filing process less fraught with landmines. And so, I take objection to the title "Why Does the Obama Administration Hate the Arts."

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