Alec Baldwin Campaigns For More Arts Funding Alec Baldwin appeared in Congress this week to argue for increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA is receiving about $147 million this year — about $20 million less than in 2010. Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep talks to Baldwin about his latest funding push.

Alec Baldwin Campaigns For More Arts Funding

Alec Baldwin Campaigns For More Arts Funding

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Alec Baldwin appeared in Congress this week to argue for increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA is receiving about $147 million this year — about $20 million less than in 2010. Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep talks to Baldwin about his latest funding push.

Actor Alec Baldwin speaks at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on Monday. Paul Morigi/Getty Images hide caption

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Paul Morigi/Getty Images


The actor Alec Baldwin is in Washington, speaking in favor of the National Endowment for the Arts. The government-funded arts organization long ago supported the Sundance Film Festival and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. In more recent years, the NEA has supported writers, arts education for kids, and everything from jazz musicians to urban design. It has also faced political controversy; most notably in the 1990s, when its funding was slashed.

Alec Baldwin visits Washington, as NEA funding has slipped again, leading to a question for the star of "30 Rock," which is on NBC, a network run for profit.

What are you guys missing? What's not getting done?

ALEC BALDWIN: When you work in the field I work in, you are surrounded by artistic achievement - set design, costuming, directing, cinematography. But, you know, acting is the most kind of thin of all of it, I suppose. But...

INSKEEP: You're selling yourself way short.

BALDWIN: Well, no. No. But I mean a lot of people feel that way about acting, we don't always get the chance to access the material. We do some of its funny, and it's entertaining, and it's silly, and people enjoy it. I mean I'm doing a TV show that's fun. It's been a great opportunity for me. But it's a souffle.

INSKEEP: You think if you went through commercial entertainment, there'd be a lot lacking. There's not much there.

BALDWIN: I think that most of what is done in commercial entertainment - and this is necessary for people, I think, because the world - you know, you turn on the TV - I'm guilty of this, as well. When I put on the BBC news hour, some days I get a little tired. I might sag in my chair a little bit, where it's the, you know, a bomb exploded in this region of the world, and today there was a war declared, and over here there was a strike, and the world is coming apart again, of course. And the world is...

INSKEEP: You've got a future as a British anchor...


BALDWIN: No, but I mean I think that what we do is we're the potato chip business, you know, when you're doing sitcoms and so forth. But every now and then people need a little break, you know. But, at the same time, I've just enjoyed doing what I can to promote arts education and private and public funding for the arts over the last 22 years.

INSKEEP: Why do you think arts funding is periodically a political lightning rod?

BALDWIN: It was easier before, and I think now you still have these kind of vapors in the air from old battles, which when there were individual grants and you could say those hot button words, like Karen Finley. And you could say Mapplethorpe and you could talk about individual grants that went to people...

INSKEEP: Artists whose work (unintelligible) were considered obscene in many cases.

BALDWIN: I've always had the same thing was when I've come down here to speak on this issue, which is, you know, art is something that comes from the artist in this unfettered way, or it's not art, quite frankly. And you can't go to the artist and say, OK, here's a grant we're going to give you, and you're going to go off and, you know, quote-unquote, "make his art." But when you do it, don't do this, and don't do this and don't do this.

Well, this is essentially what they said to the grant recipients. They said you have to return the money for the grant if, when you're done, it's something we don't approve of.

INSKEEP: Are you hitting at what the difficulty is, though, with arts funding, because the artist has to do something individual? They have to do something that feels new, that feels very true to them. It's inevitably going to offend someone, and someone is going to say: Why are my tax dollars going to that?

BALDWIN: Well, I mean we open up, not a can of worms, we open up an actual oil tanker of worms, in my mind, if we start talking about your opinion and my opinion of what the government should be spending money on. You know, if you think I'm being verbose now, I could give you another three or four hours of what - for the record, he's actually laughing as I'm saying this.


BALDWIN: He's silently smiling as I say this. I could give you another three or four hours of my objections to that. Listen, it's about freedom of expression.

INSKEEP: I want to ask you a couple of questions about your role on "30 Rock" I think are relevant here.


INSKEEP: Because as people who watch the people will know, you play a network executive who is politically quite conservative...


INSKEEP: ...a good deal different than you are in real life. Has your character ever come out with a political position that you have found yourself, secretly or not so secretly, agreeing with?


INSKEEP: A conservative position.

BALDWIN: Well, I think...

INSKEEP: Has your alter ego forced to do think about your politics? That's what I'm asking.

BALDWIN: There are times when you, you know, television is like the theater where you have the opportunity to play the character for an extended period of time. Like in films, it's all like ice sculpting - it's all gone so quickly. And there isn't a lot of resonance with a lot of it, typically. And then in theater, 'cause in the theater and you go out and play the guy every night, or what have you, for months on end; and then the same with the television series.

And then, yeah, there are some things where I stop and think, I have a little bit of an understanding of my character more.


BALDWIN: Playing the character has forced me to - it's another component added to many, many moderate Rockefeller era Republicans who are friends of mine in New York, who'll say to you say to you, I want the capital gains taxes to stay low. And I say, well, OK, I agree with you. The question is how low is low? Is 20 percent OK for you? You know, would you pay 20 percent? Like, what's an amount of money we can, you know, well, we can go on and on with examples of that.

But I have friends of mine are moderate Republicans and more - they're all fiscal. It's all about money and taxes, and hanging onto their money. You know, one thing I did was, when Romney announced his taxes, I called my accountant. I go, do me a favor. Shoot me an e-mail. What is the percentage of my income I paid in taxes?

And he sent me the e-mail...

INSKEEP: And? And?

BALDWIN: And I think I have it in my phone here. Let me look it up.

INSKEEP: Take a second. Oh, you're going to redo your 1040 form and find out...

BALDWIN: I'm going to do my taxes, right now, in front of you.

INSKEEP: That's great. This is gripping radio.

BALDWIN: Yeah, I paid 34 percent in income taxes.

INSKEEP: Is that about right?

BALDWIN: Oh, yeah.


BALDWIN: Yeah. Of course, yeah.

INSKEEP: Final thing, you got upset at NBC for reasons we don't need to get into here, in any detail, except that you tweeted the other day: I think I'm getting out at the right time.

BALDWIN: Well, no. I know that the end of the show is looming. We're not going to be doing it much longer. We're going to conclude this season. We're doing another season of whatever length. We may do a full season. We may do a partial season. And then, I think after this year, we're done. (unintelligible) we are done.

INSKEEP: So, you're not leaving the show. The show...

BALDWIN: No. No. No, I never wanted to imply that. I guess it may be I - sometimes I'm not as articulate on Twitter as I ought to be. I said, you know, my relationship with NBC, maybe, is ending just in time. 'Cause "The Today Show," I mean I was surprised and then they were camped out in front of my apartment. It was kind of disturbing.

INSKEEP: It was a story about a stalker, and so forth.


INSKEEP: Are you running for something?

BALDWIN: No, I wish I could, but I can't. You know, I live in New York and I've had people approach me, really very seriously. I mean there was some really heavy duty people that called me up from Connecticut, and said come and run against Lieberman. And my problem is I live in New York, all my board commitments are in New York, and I'm a New Yorker to the core. And New York is a completely safe Democratic state, up-and-down, you know, from the governor, all the statewide offices...

INSKEEP: So what are you saying? You want something a little more of a challenge or...

BALDWIN: But I don't think there's anything to run for. I mean...

INSKEEP: Oh, something that's open, basically.

BALDWIN: Yeah, I mean there's nothing open. I don't live in Manhattan. I'm a resident of East Hampton, Long Island. I mean unless - I think if I ran for Suffolk County executive, I might have a shot. Or the Suffolk County legislature...


BALDWIN: I don't know. I don't know. You know it mean? But in New York...

INSKEEP: We're going to be calling the Suffolk County executive for comment on your perspective run.

BALDWIN: Please do. (Unintelligible). But right now, the people say: do you want to run? And the answer is yes. But, the practical thing is, for what, becomes the real issue.

INSKEEP: Alec Baldwin, it's been a pleasure.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: He gave a lecture last night in Washington, for Americans for The Arts. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News, I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Lynn Neary.

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