National Press Club

Alec Baldwin sticks to script, advocates more arts funding

April 16, 2012 | By Richard Lee | rf-lee@earthlink.net

Actor and arts activist Alec Baldwin calls for more arts funding at National Press Club luncheon. Club President Theresa Werner moderates Q&A.

Actor and arts activist Alec Baldwin calls for more arts funding at National Press Club luncheon. Club President Theresa Werner moderates Q&A.

Photo/Image: Al Teich

Actor-activist Alec Baldwin, famously candid and notoriously outspoken, was relatively serious and subdued at his National Press Club luncheon appearance April 16, as he discussed his own cultural growth and stressed the importance of more federal funding for the arts — even in the current struggling economy.

Baldwin, Emmy-winning star of the hit NBC sitcom, “30 Rock,” and also of stage and screen, is in Washington this week for Capitol Hill meetings as part of an effort by the advocacy group Americans for the Arts to raise consciousness about the importance of the arts and to increase funding.

For Baldwin, it’s both a personal crusade and a kind of personal fulfillment. He also knows it’s an uphill battle, convincing sometimes dubious and recalcitrant lawmakers to do more for the arts.

"I think the arts are beyond essential," Baldwin said.

"The government is out of the individual grant business," he added. "The amount of money dropped precipitously for a while and has come back up. However, I think the numbers are still problematic."

He said that the United States should look to Europe for examples of supporting the arts.

"I just got back from Rome, and Italy has a weak economy, but they have an artistic heritage that puts us to shame," Baldwin said. "You go to Paris, you go to London, even when you're in New York and this city as well. Nothing makes you love this country more -- it kind of chokes me up, actually -- than when you come to Washington and walk around, and see this great architecture, the great artistic heritage that is embodied in this town. And it has nothing to do with the rhetoric of any one of those people who exist on the Hill today, not a Republican or a Democrat."

Baldwin said is lucky to have a career in the arts.

“In my own life, I feel as if I am living in the arts lounge now, and I am very fortunate,” he said. “Here you are on a first-name basis with people like (New York Philharmonic music director) Alan Gilbert. I have contact today with a whole range of artistic people. The artistic experience, whatever it is, is much more important, and far more interesting to me now, than the glitz and the glamour of show business.”

Baldwin has been on-air announcer for the New York Philharmonic the past three seasons. And he is spokesperson on TV for Capital One Bank.

"They've been great partners for me," he said. "They have helped me shape the content of the commercials. I funneled all the proceeds I got from them toward arts funding, my foundation. And I'm doing another round with them now."

As a student at George Washington University in the late 1970s, Baldwin got to know Washington -- and its architecture -- well. He also spent time as an intern for a New York congressman, an experience he remembers mainly as “a mythical exercise in drinking.”

Baldwin was circumspect about his career, dodging a question about whether, as has been speculated, he will leave “30 Rock” after this season. He is signed for one more season.

“Well, I’m really proud of the show,” he said. “We won all these awards. Season two, three and four were great, but season five, I think, was pretty crappy.”

He also addressed the much-reported incident of being tossed from an American Airlines plane before takeoff in Los Angeles for continuing to Tweet after being told to turn off his smartphone.

“A demeaning moment,” Baldwin admitted. “There were probably seven or eight people who had their cellphones on, and they were Tweeting about it at the time it was happening. Bad luck for me that day. But that's okay.”

Club President Theresa Werner asked him if he would fly American Airlines again.

A long pause. A sly smile. “Next question,” Baldwin deadpanned.

He remains a Twitter enthusiast, though, he added.

“I do like that it enables you to communicate, on a limited number of fields, with your fans. You get to speak to people directly and bypass all of you in this room," Baldwin said.