Monday, February 23, 2009

Calling for A Secretary of the Arts

The idea isn’t really a new one.

Not for artists and arts administrators, and not even for musician and producer Quincy Jones, who has emerged as the standard-bearer for the cause.

But the concept of establishing a cabinet-level position devoted to our country’s arts and culture has gained a lot of momentum since Jones began pushing it in earnest in the weeks following the presidential election. He started the ball rolling during a November interview on WNYC radio in New York, when he called for the new administration to name a “Secretary of the Arts.”

In short order, others took up the call, notably bassist Jaime Austria, who created a web-based petition to enlist and document popular support for the idea ( ). By one recent count, as many as 150,000 people have signed on so far, and at least 15 organizations have hopped on the bandwagon along with Americans for the Arts to support the effort.

The president’s cabinet, the reasoning goes, is the place all the sectors that, collectively, make up American society come together – education, commerce, transportation, energy, agriculture, and the rest.

And the arts deserve a seat at that table, proponents say, in what is shaping up to be a spirited debate, “Yes, Yes, Yes. . . . This is about a society that recognizes art as important for a strong nation,” is the way one blogger on the Los Angeles Times website put it.

But a nearby posting represented a different view.“At best, such a government office would be a huge waste of money. At worst, government sponsored "culture" will be used for political purposes . . .” it read.

Others express worries about government spending in general, as well as an ideological aversion to “more government.”

“I'm all about the arts -- but THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO ADD TO THE DEFICIT. Hopefully there are enough SMART people who will be realistic about this and stop this senseless push for more spending,” one person wrote.Artists themselves are divided, with some enthusiastic and others raising a wary eyebrow, like this blog writer:

“I am a pianist, organist and composer. . . . I am an advocate of the arts, yet I would NEVER, support something like this—a petition to put control of something so precious as music, art, dance, poetry, and drama in the hands of bureaucrats.”Still, at least 150,000 petition signers embrace the idea.

“The fact is that a healthy society is directly related to its cultural and artistic successes. The arts make our lives more vibrant, more meaningful. The arts make our culture more attractive, our country stronger and our citizens that much more in-tune with the human experience. [And] the fact is that every dollar spent on the arts brings back 10 to the economy,” one supporter wrote.

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. A Cabinet level position for the Arts would not result in government control. It would represent the acknowledgment that the arts are central to the life and well being of a nation.

    We have grown enough as a nation to have a cosmopolitan President who does not descend from the owning class, but who represents some of the best of what this country can be. Surely we can acknowledge that our greatness after WW2 derived from our creative achievements at least as much as from our military and economic might.

    The arts define a nation to to itself and to others. The arts are how we and subsequent generations come to understand the human nature of our lives and society.

    If indeed "A great nation deserves great art," then acknowledging the importance of the arts in our society is a sensible thing to do.

    This President has repeatedly noted that he will bring music, including jazz and classical, back to the White house. Obama seems to have some sense of the importance of honoring creative and shared creative endeavor.


How important is government funding for the arts?