Letters to the Arts Editor

A model image showing the proposed Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial to be built in Washington, D.C.
Eisenhower Memorial Commission via Associated Press
A model image showing the proposed Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial to be built in Washington, D.C.

What national memorials need

Thank you for the poignant and sober article chronicling the latest memorial efforts in D.C. (“Memorializing Eisenhower, too literally,” Arts, Oct. 14). Indeed, why Ike? I think Robert Campbell hit the nail on the head and in doing so may have suggested a new program for the memorial site: “Presidents Park” — let’s put ’em all there! It could take the pressure off the Eisenhower design and also spare the remainder of D.C. from the current memorialization fever.



To have written on the Eisenhower Memorial controversy and failed to mention our singularly distinguished counterproposal, saliently on the table, and the best example of place-related architecture and urbanism to be presented for the national capital since the L’Enfant Plan, and a work of exemplary humanism and state of the art urban design, is an act of the greatest cultural dereliction, and irresponsibility.


To have written on the Eisenhower Memorial controversy and failed to mention the single greatest contribution made by this president — his farewell address, which ranks along with that of George Washington as one of the two most important such addresses ever bestowed on this nation, and one with every passing year and each additional tragic foreign incursion, ever more a central and crucial advice to be taken most seriously and kept prominently in our public consciousness — and the chief focus of our counterproposal — is nothing short of an act of violence against world peace, dignity of peoples, and just plain old morality.

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I have had respect for Mr. Campbell’s breadth of view, evident in his past work, and for the courage often shown there, and invite him to once again “step out of the aesthetic/political ghetto” which professional architectural writing so lamentably represents to readdress this project with the intellectual honesty, clarity, directness, morality, and historical consciousness required.



Skaneateles, N.Y.

Mr. Campbell’s great insight regarding the Eisenhower Memorial and in particular the following statement motivated me to write, since the Vietnam Veterans Memorial symbolism, mystery, and interpretation are about to be infringed upon by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial visitor center.

“The Eisenhower, in other words, is too literal. It leaves nothing to the imagination. It spells everything out. Great memorials, like those to Lincoln, Washington, and the veterans of the Vietnam War, aren’t like that. They’re symbols, not storyboards filled with text and imagery. Symbols don’t shout their meanings. They’re silent. They’re a bit mysterious. They ask that we, the visitors, bring some of the memories and interpretations. A good memorial is like a good poem. It can be interpreted in more than one way and you feel you never quite get to the bottom of it.”


Being a Vietnam veteran whose best friend from high school as well as others that I have known are honored on “The Wall,” it has been very disheartening to see those who were responsible for establishing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial missing the point that the Vietnam Veterans Memorial visitor center will take away from “The Wall’s” mystique and its ability to embrace each visitor in a unique and memorable way. “The Wall” is the ultimate expression of holding all honored there to the same dignity with no indication of rank, no age, no date of death — it bestows timeless Equal Honor for All.

I would urge you to take an in-depth look at what is being planned right across Henry Bacon Drive from “The Wall.” The introduction of individual pictures, their stories, the story of the Vietnam War in such close proximity, will forever negatively affect the experience at “The Wall” for future and returning visitors.

The intent is not to stop the establishing of a place to tell the Vietnam War and its participants’ stories but to find another location that will not be destructive of the special feelings that “The Wall” evokes and the space it holds and will hold in the hearts and souls of those who are fortunate to experience its presence.



Equal Honor for All


When ‘Big River’ began

I found Laura Collins-Hughes’s coverage of Diane Ragsdale’s theater report to be excellent (“Broadway bound?” Arts, Oct. 14). I would like to correct one small error in the opening paragraphs.


The article says: “Decades before he took on the chairmanship of the National Endowment for the Arts, Broadway producer Rocco Landesman approached his friend Robert Brustein about doing a musical at Brustein’s artistic home, the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge. Brustein liked the idea, and the show, ‘Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,’ opened there in 1984. It would go on to run for more than 1,000 performances on Broadway, win seven Tony Awards, including the coveted best musical, and earn the ART well over $300,000 for having premiered the piece.”

The fact is it was not our production of “Big River” that went on to Broadway. It was the La Jolla production (which used only our sets, costumes, and director, Des McAnuff). And Rocco did not show me a musical. He showed me a prose adaptation of “Huckleberry Finn” by Bill Hauptmann, like Rocco a former student of mine at the Yale School of Drama. Later, he persuaded me that music would enhance the script, and after I approached James Taylor, Carly Simon, and Lucy Simon, without success, he suggested Roger Miller. Never did the ART relinquish full authority over its own production, or take any enhancement money from outside sources, though you are right that it profited when the show went on to Broadway.



Two, I’m thinking of you

I have wanted to send Matthew Gilbert a fan e-mail for years. But his “One, I Love You” reference today forced me to finally do it (Critic’s Corner, g, Oct. 10). He is a wonderful writer and critic. I look forward to reading his reviews (and anything else he writes!). I rely on him to tell me what to watch on TV — and what not to watch on TV. “What did Matthew say?” is a frequent question in our household.



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