By MATT RAYMOND
Actor Tim Daly gingerly wound his way up a narrow spiral staircase to a low-ceilinged, vaulted alcove overlooking the ornate Ceremonial Office of the Librarian of Congress. Surveying the VIPs on the crowded floor below—members of Congress, Hollywood A-listers, Library leadership—he pulled out a camera to capture the celebratory moment. Then he paused.
“I wonder if I should shout at them to look up for a group photo,” he mused aloud. “No, I can’t shout, I’m in a library,” he said, an ironic statement that could barely be heard above the clamorous reception a few feet below.
Even the president couldn’t bring order to this room. Or the co-president, anyway.
Daly (of TV’s “Private Practice” and “Wings”) and Dana Delany (“Desperate Housewives,” “China Beach”), who share the title of co-presidents of The Creative Coalition (TCC), were in Washington, D.C., to lead the group’s annual advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill, focusing on such issues as free speech and copyright protection.
But on April 29 at the Library, they and other big names in the entertainment industry balanced a serious audiovisual-preservation message with lighthearted banter in a Coolidge Auditorium program called “Art & Soul: A Celebration of the American Spirit.”
The evening began with a star-studded arrival at the Great Hall. Celebrities strutted past a throng of flashbulbs and video cameras. Some scurried off to practice their lines. Others such as Adrian Grenier (“Entourage,” “The Devil Wears Prada”) lingered, mugging for the cameras and submitting to every last interview request and fan photo. Other performers included CCH Pounder, Cheryl Hines, Howard Fineman, Omar Epps, Marlon Wayans, Gloria Reuben, Steven Weber, Wendie Malick, Richard Schiff, Spike Lee and Patricia Arquette.
Inside the Coolidge Auditorium, TCC Chairman Michael Frankfurt said “Art & Soul” was meant to “celebrate American art and highlight the Library of Congress’s incomparable recorded sound, TV, film and an unforgettable history.” Delany praised the arts as “the soul of our nation,” while TCC Chief Executive Officer Robin Bronk thanked the Library for hosting the group and admitted her awe at being “in the presence of history.”
Before the scripted show began—”unplugged, unfiltered and … unrehearsed,” in the words of Tom Fontana, who conceived and staged “Art & Soul” and created such series as “Oz”—Lee and Arquette, of TV’s “Medium,” paired up to honor the Library’s own role in supporting their industry.
The duo presented TCC’s 2010 Spotlight Award to Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, an honor that “recognizes individuals and organizations who are dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Americans and who have exhibited a long-standing commitment to the Arts.”
Lee and Arquette praised Billington for his leadership role in preserving film and recorded sound, such as the National Film Registry and the National Recording Registry, and the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va., which was a focus of the evening’s program.
But Billington wasted no time in deflecting much of the credit.
“In honoring me, and I do deeply appreciate this, you’re really honoring dedicated public servants, staff, under (Packard Campus Director) Pat Loughney’s admirable direction,” Billington said.
As he often does, Billington called Congress “the greatest patron of a library in the history of the world,” pointing out that Congress, under Article I of the Constitution, is empowered to “preserve and encourage and foster and reward the creative people of the country, rather than just what the governments have produced.”
Then the stars took to the stage, two by two (with the exception of the trio of Epps, Wayans and Reuben), to tout the importance of preservation and the Library’s role in it.
Lee and Newsweek’s Fineman commented on historic films and audio from the Library’s collections, such as the crash of the Hindenburg and Marian Anderson’s 1939 performance of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” at the Lincoln Memorial. “The Packard Campus ensures that our cultural heritage and our current history will be available to study and enjoy for centuries,” Fineman said.
Epps, Wayans and Reuben traced the history of recorded sound, while Malick and Grenier celebrated America’s musical heritage. Weber and Hines played a fictional husband and wife who marveled at “the first television set,” with Weber making wild predictions about the future existence of anchormen and pundits. And Pounder and Schiff talked about movies that, in Schiff’s words, “are truly transcendent.”
Daly and Delany returned to the stage to end the show, noting a number of historic movies and broadcasts that have been forever lost to history, and the urgency of ensuring that others don’t meet the same grim fate.
Maybe The Creative Coalition’s co-president didn’t get his group photo. But he helped bring the issue of preserving our nation’s cultural heritage into much sharper focus.
The Creative Coalition is a nonprofit, non-partisan, social and political advocacy organization in the entertainment industry. It educates and mobilizes leaders on issues such as First Amendment rights and arts advocacy.