Corbett Lifetime Achievement Award Hits Sour Note with Some
An April press release from the opera stated that, “Gov. Corbett will be honored for his early work as a teacher as well as his long-standing protection of the public interest as Pa. Attorney General. Additionally, as governor, he has recognized the economic, educational and social value of the arts.”
The opera is also honoring Susan Corbett, “as First Lady, has championed greater participation in the arts in her role as Chair of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.”
The decision has led to online outrage, with hundreds of comments being posted on the opera’s Facebook page and 1,200-plus signatures on a change.org petition that calls on the Pittsburgh Opera to “Rescind the Tom and Susan Corbett Lifetime Achievement Award.”
The controversy also prompted a response from a local blog entitled Yinzercation (a portmanteau of “Yinzer nation” and “education”), a site run by Jessie Ramey, ACLS New Faculty Fellow at Pitt and parent to two students attending public schools there.
The blog began in December 2011 in response to those “outraged by the $1 billion state cuts that are now hitting our schools.”
What started as a group of Pittsburgh Colfax K-8 parents “has quickly grown into a region-wide movement as folks from across Southwest PA have joined the fight to stop this attack on public education,” according to the site.
Ramey said in a Post-Gazette interview that the only opera that comes to mind when she thinks of Corbett is “The Beggar’s Opera,” because of the lengths to which public schools must now go in order to save their arts curriculum.
While some members of the public may not agree with the opera’s decision, their marketing and communications director Debra L. Bell said in the same Post-Gazette interview that Gov. Corbett intervened this year to prevent a 70 percent cut to the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts budget
She also said the council gave $73,000 to the opera this year, bringing the total to $2 million since 1998.
Even so, arts and arts education supporters have been saying that it ain’t over until the fat lady sings, and they plan to hold a demonstration outside of the Saturday event, when the Corbetts are to receive their award following the opera’s annual benefit gala.
It is expected that some are planning to take the opera-tunity to show their love for the arts by donning Viking helmets and staging a protest outside opera headquarters.
Additionally, in a move Yinzercation calls “Singing it to the Legislators,” activists have called on their fellow incensed parents and arts supporters to contact their state representatives and senators, along with Pittsburgh Opera’s board members, to demand better support for education.
There’s also a practical benefit for the opera to share good will with the Governor.
Like many of the well-connected opera board members, Chair Michele Fabrizi has history with Gov. Corbett outside of the opera.
Fabrizi has a couple ties with state politics – having donated to the campaigns of the governor, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Dwight Evans as well as Dan Onorato, who lost to Corbett in the gubernatorial race.
Her connections are typical. General Director Christopher Hahn, President John E. Traina and Treasurer Robert C. Denove all donated to state political campaigns within the last cycle. Hahn donated to Corbett, while the latter two donated to state Minority Leader Jay Costa Jr. and Onorato, respectively.