There has been a lot of debate and speculation about what President Obama might do with arts funding, arts policy and the NEA in particular, now that President Bush’s appointed head, Dana Gioia, has resigned. Thanks to Quincy Jones, and the online petition supporting him, there’s been much talk about a ‘secretary for the arts‘ — or in arts blogger Tyler Green’s preferred formulation, a “White House arts adviser,” akin to the long-established “science adviser.” Meanwhile, Baylor professor David Smith, author of Money for Art, has written in the Wall Street Journal against the idea of a cabinet-level arts position as an “old, bad idea.”
The big reasons for all this hubbub? Obama was one of the rare presidential candidates to issue a formulated arts policy statement. Which raised a lot of hopes and the expected Kennedy-era echoes, this time with Yo-Yo Ma and poet Elizabeth Alexander performing at the inauguration. But here it is, the second week of the new administration, the transition is over, the cabinet has been formed, and he hasn’t indicated anything definite about who he might pick for the NEA and NEH. Or anything else arts-wise.
Plus, there’s that recession. Which is why arts leaders are putting pressure on Congress and the administration to do something soon:
“We wanted to make sure arts were not left out of the recovery,” said Robert L. Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, a national lobbying group. “The artist’s paycheck is every bit as important as the steelworker’s paycheck or the autoworker’s paycheck.”
… what arts executives are most eager for, they say, is additional direct financing and a president who sends the message that art is important. The country’s 100,000 nonprofit arts groups employ some six million people and contribute $167 billion to the economy annually, Mr. Lynch said. “I don’t think of this as a bailout for the arts,” he added. “It’s an economic investment in the arts.”