Government and the arts
By Chris Van Hof ~ Posted Thu, 02/12/2009 - 2:11pm
This Spring, there will be Congressional meetings and hearings about how the arts and music benefit the economy and education. What do you think Congress can do to bolster the arts? Or conversely, should they do anything?
There has been a lot of talk lately about creating a Secretary of the Arts. Quincy Jones, legendary record producer, arranger, bandleader, and instrumentalist, is the most outspoken advocate for creating the position, and some say he is the most likely candidate to occupy the post, but Herbie Hancock has offered his services as well. There is a heavily signed online petition headed President Obama's way in support of the measure. Some, like my favorite composer John Adams, seem indifferent with a degree of "let's get the real heavy lifting out of the way first." Others make keen arguments against the creation of such a post.
Heated exchanges abound on this topic. On one hand, a Cabinet-level position possesses a lot of potential benefit to the arts (and as someone employed completely in the arts, I'm happy for some help). I would expect increased funding for arts-related entities and projects. I would anticipate a higher level of awareness nationally for the arts and a likely increase in the visibility of the arts. I could see federally-sponsored international tours of classical and jazz music, ballet companies, art exhibits, drama, and literature. I would expect more cultural events made available to more people in more places.
But, on the other hand, I see a centralized Arts Czar leading our collective way as a dangerous proposition for creativity, artistic freedom, and public perception. I fear that a Ministry of Culture may frown upon certain kinds of art, and may disapprove of certain messages. Would such a Ministry fund a gallery featuring works of art denouncing the war in Iraq? Would Secretary Herbie Hancock equally support an initiative to promote jazz in the schools as he would an effort to encourage kids to sculpt in clay? And, it seems to me that with public support of the arts in the recent stimulus package a favorite sticking point for fiscal conservatives, an entire government agency may simply drive the wedge between artists and non-arts fans even deeper. Think about that neighbor that already thinks it's a waste of time that you go to an orchestra concert. Now think about what he'd say if he was footing the bill for an interpretive dance tour of Pakistan.
While I lean towards the opposition side of this argument, my own personal jury is still out. What do you think? Could we have a Secretary of the Arts? Do we need one? Would this be good or bad for the cultural landscape of America?