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 digital 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 down.
So 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 issues such as free speech and copyright protection.
But last Thursday night at the Library, they and many other big names in the entertainment industry balanced an audiovisual-preservation message with merriment in a lighthearted Coolidge Auditorium program called “Art & Soul: A Celebration of the American Spirit.”
The evening began with a relatively rare sight in the mid-Atlantic: a full-on red-carpet arrival into the Library’s awe-inspiring Great Hall–well, minus the actual red carpet. No reason to conceal the sprawling, historic marble floor.
After the celebs cleared security (we’re all D-listers at the magnetometers, darling), they strutted past a throng of flashbulbs and video cameras, turning toward the photographers calling out their names in hope of scoring a better angle from behind the velvet rope.
Some scurried off to practice their lines. Others such as Adrian Grenier (“Entourage,” “The Devil Wears Prada”) lingered patiently, mugging for the cameras and submitting happily to every last interview request and fan photo.
Once past the paps, the performers–also including CCH Pounder, Cheryl Hines, Howard Fineman, Omar Epps, Marlon Wayans, Gloria Reuben, Steven Weber, Wendie Malick, Richard Schiff, Spike Lee and Patricia Arquette–retreated to the greenroom backstage.
When the lights went down in the Coolidge, TCC Chairman Michael Frankfurt and Chief Executive Officer Robin Bronk, along with Delany and Daly, took to the stage to, well, set the stage.
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,” influencing aspects of life such as education and the economy. Bronk thanked the Library for hosting TCC 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”–Director Spike Lee and Patricia 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, an avid NBA fan, couldn’t help pointing out that both Billington and L.A. Laker Kobe Bryant attended Philadelphia’s Lower Merion High School.
Lee and Arquette praised Billington for his leadership role in efforts to preserve 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.
And as he so often does, Billington touted Congress as “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 hilarious 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. Hines and Weber 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.”
Tim Daly and Dana 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 in the future 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.