Congressman Jeff Flake and His Crusade Against Mimes and Accordions Pisses Off Polka Fans

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This weekend is the 11th annual International Accordion Festival in San Antonio, Texas. It's a three-day gathering of accordions, polka music, and, of course, beer.

But if you ask Gwen Rivera, director of the International Accordion Festival, it's more than just a gathering of polka fans who sit around and consume brew. According to Rivera, it's a "cultural exchange" that helps teach music appreciation and provides support for artist.

The festival this year, Rivera tells New Times, has taken quite a hit in terms of the funding it gets from the National Endowment of the Arts, an independent agency of the federal government pegged with dishing out cash in the form grants to support the arts.

Enter Congressman Jeff Flake, who's running for the Senate seat getting vacated by retiring Senator Jon Kyl, and has been a tireless advocate of tightening the federal government's belt, particularly during the worst economic climates since the Great Depression.

The International Accordion Festival's annual budget, Rivera says, is about $150,000. Last year, $35,000 of the $150,000 was paid for by the federal government in the form of an NEA grant. This year, that grant was slashed to $30,000.

"We feel it," Rivera says. "We're expecting the same number of people (about 30,000) and we're gonna have to make due with less money."

In May, Flake really gave it to Rocco Landesman, chairman of the NEA, during a U.S. House Appropriations sub-committee meeting. Flake wanted to know why -- given the current realities if the U.S. economy -- the NEA should give funds to certain groups that, according to him, are "a bit tough to justify."

Flake specifically singled out the San Francisco Mime Troupe and the International Accordion Festival.

"Those kind of grants lend themselves to ridicule," Flake said.

Rivera insists, "We're not one of these ridiculous organizations" and acknowledges that cuts were made across the board when it comes to the arts -- but she's still not thrilled with Flake.

"Some representatives were on board for the arts -- some weren't," she says. "[Those who oppose the funding] think we just play music and drink beer."

Rivera says she acknowledges that cuts need to be made but says the arts isn't the place to do it. However, she had no answer when asked for a better alternative.

In other words, cutting the defense budget to subsidize an accordion festival in Texas probably won't sit well with the majority of American taxpayers -- even accordion fans.

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