Obama's Artist Corps?

By John Rockwell

A lot of this discussion has involved initiatives on a state or local level, or even a personal level, one to one. But Obama's arts platform makes reference to a possible Artists Corps, presumably modeled on the New Deal. I'm not sure how tangible this is, and whether it would be intended simply to put artists to work making art, or whether it might also involve artists teaching in the schools.

If the latter, it could be a serious resource for expanding arts education nationwide. Has anyone contacts with Obama transition people, like Bill Ivey, who could find out if this is something worth pursuing? Or has it been pursued already, in which case does anyone in this conversation know something more specifc about the proposed corps and its possible application to arts education?

December 5, 2008 1:13 PM | | Comments (15) |


Have just attended a workshop with Eric Booth in Australia, which was one of the most exciting thing I have recently attended too. The Australia Council for the Arts has a wonderful 3 series of videos with Eric on their site:

Deeply meaningful and incredibly enjoyable to listen to at the same time.

Martina Pook
Artrillium House

I wanted to share a bit about an existing ArtCorps - and to add to this exciting dialogue. Since 1999, ArtCorps volunteers have been using the arts to mobilize communities toward social change, but we are doing it in Central America! We partner with environmental, health and human rights organizations and embed this strategy into their existing outreach and education. We recruit artists of all disciplines and nationalities. We would be most interested in applying our methodology to a national ArtCorps! I would be interested to know whether there has been any action in moving this forward. If anyone has any information, please let me know!

I am an artist, primarily in painting, although I play around with music also. I would love to know more about the Art Corps. I teach classes locally, and have worked with state and national groups. I would love to be involved with some international exchanges. I would like to just be kept in the loop to know what is going on, and how I could help. Art is so important to all cultures, and especially at this time when there is so much crisis around the world, and at home. I look forward to the things our new president will do for the arts, as well as all the other important issues facing our nation and world.

Dear Mr Rockwell,

I stumbled across your blog while looking for information on Obama's arts policy, and I would quite like to interview you for a feature I'm writing. I'm one of the editors in chief of Fnews, the student publication of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and one of the more important articles in the Feb issue will be a discussion of the new administration's policies regarding the arts (as well as speculation about how fast we can expect our funding to be slashed, compliments of the economic apocalypse), and any comment you would like to make on the subject would be greatly appreciated. If you would be interested in talking to me, please email me at ambeatley@gmail.com. Thank you very much,

Aurelie Beatley
Associate Editor in chief, Fnewsmagazine.

I thought I was one of the few people who remebered the 1930's paintings in the post offices. Now I find that there is a National Artist Corp on the horizon and artists willing to work for it in 2009. Thank you.

There are several very successful WRITERS CORPS which have been making major contributions in LA, San Francisco, DC and Brooklyn for years - for one example, check out www.dcwriterscorps.org.
Drawing on this model, creation of a Green Artists Corps is a priority in a project that members of the US Partnership for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development are developing. This project's purpose is to mobilize the arts as a catalyst for action to address the UN Millennium Goals and the Earth Charter's ethical action agenda.
In these challenging times, we need artists even more - artists willing to serve as change-agents, to foster the creativity - the capacity to think outside conventional cutural boxes - we all need to face the future together with confidence and creativity.

We've opened up a blog channel specifically to discuss Artist Corps at http://musicnationalservice.org/imaginartists. Please join us! Thanks, Kiff

John,I too heard about this initiative and can readily say that after twenty-seven years as a professional spoken-word artist and performer, the last eight years have been disastrous and America needs an Artist National Service Corps.
I had a conversation with an old friend just last week, a first-rate violinist and composer. Like me, he feels as if Bush and his ideologues have crushed the life from grass-roots arts. I am fortunate; I can still make a living, but my friend cannot. Grass-roots arts has become a dustbowl. We could surely use some rain, and more power to anyone in the Obama administration who can call the clouds and put tens of thousands of performers and graphic artists back to work, especially in our schools.

I'm a senior Theater major at Oberlin College. I have been working with students from ages 10-18 in the areas of education and performance for 6 years now. I'm currently implementing an original after school theater program at Southview High School in Lorain County. The program focuses on using Theater as a tool to increase reading and writing skills, confidence and professionalism, and education about social issues and wellness with 10th graders. The program with culminate with the group creating an original piece focusing on issues they see in their community that they will perform for their peers or younger students. I'm so excited about the prospect of an Artist Corps. My dream is to teach theater to at risk youths and use it as an educational and empowerment tool. If anyone has anymore information about this topic, or how to get involved in this field I would be SO thankful for the help. I don't have any set plans for next year besides trying every way I can think of to use my skills and passion in a public school or in a low income community; working with students who may not have the opportunity to explore theater otherwise. This is so exciting!! Any thoughts or advise? Or news??!!

I do watercolor, pen and in, and acrylic. I teach watercolor and belong to art groups.Art to me is a necessity for a today community.I'd love to get involved in Obama's Art Corp.I have much to contribute. Please, I'd like to be kept informed.
I feel this is long overdue.
Sy Rosefelt

I heard of the program on NPR today, and immediately researched it on the Internet. My name is Terrence Prather. I am a working musician in Atlanta, Ga. and have toured with international acts as a drummer. I am currently playing drums for The Breeze Kings.

A week ago I went to a school event (Music Day) at a National Franchise School Program with my drumset, and performed for 2-5 year olds with songs and instrumentation of their own, and then gave them the opportunity to sit behind the drumset and have their pictures taken while they played. It was one of happiest days I've had in my career. As I started playing at a very young age; I couldn't help but imagine what musical seeds were planted on that day. I hope the program moves forward, and would like to participate in whatever capacity possible. Wonderful! Please contact me if I can be of any assistance as you move forward.

Terrence Prather


I don't want to leave this thread hanging after Eric's kind introduction!

It's exciting to feel the energy building for a National Artist Corps. Over the last 18 months, an interdisciplinary group of educators, policy makers, social entrepreneurs and artists have been helping us to think through how best to implement this initiative.

The Aspen Institute, Center for American Progress and several leading arts service and advocacy organizations have endorsed the idea while a bipartisan congressional caucus is forming to consider legislation.

Most importantly, the grassroots made its support for Artist Corps loud and clear last June when NPAC's unprecedented national gathering of music and arts organizations voted to make "a national AmeriCorps/WPA-type program" a priority for the whole field.

While I'm not authorized to speak for the Obama-Biden Transition, I'm confident that this important initiative from the President-elect's arts policy platform won't be ignored.

I expect we'll be hearing more and hopefully participating in the dialogue about Artist Corps in the weeks and months ahead.

Thank you,

Kiff Gallagher
Music National Service Initiative


Americans for the Arts is in touch with the transition team and is monitoring future arts policy based upon Obama's arts policy statement published during the campaign. For more information, see www.artsactionfund.org or contact Narric Rome, Director of Federal Affairs, at nrome@artsusa.org.

John -

I share your enthusiasm for a National Artists Corps. I have been advocating for a National Artists Corps that works in concert with a Green Jobs initiative and the rebuilding of our nations infrastructure. Under my proposal artists of all media would be involved in the revitalization of our nations infrastructure and economy. As in all my efforts this proposal emerges from the grassroots. Yes a National Artists Corps could borrow from the most successful aspects of the Federal One Program of the 1930’s and would integrate what we have since learned about community and neighborhoods arts. The reality on the ground at this moment in time is that teaching and working artists are feeling the pain and need more work opportunities. What I am calling for is taking what we have learned works in educational and community settings and bringing that to the work place, to industry and to government. Teaching arts in the schools, yes absolutely it should be a vital part of the core curriculum, and now it is time to bring these projects to the community and workforce at large. It is time that we expanded the very definition of community arts and arts education.

Lets advocate for a National Green Artists Corps that will help put America back to work. After all can you imagine all these new infrastructure projects without a creative touch? The possibilities are limitless, and I invite you to join with me in developing this proposal.


John, I hope Kiff Gallagher, one of our bloggers, picks up on your question. Kiff is leading the Music National Service Initiative. He is a former Clinton White House Staffer and has been heroically developing this initiative, which is breaking ground with some start up funding and pilot work underway. It is very much aligned with a possible Artist National Service Corps that may be an Obama Administration initiative. Bill Ivey is leading the arts/culture transition team, so I urge everyone who knows him to drop Bill a note about your interest in the notion of an Artist National Service Corp.

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This Conversation For decades, as teaching of the arts has been cut back in our public schools, alarms have been raised about the dire consequences for American culture. Artists and arts organizations stepped in to try to... more

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Recent Comments

Martina Pook commented on Obama's Artist Corps?: Have just attended a workshop with Eric Booth in Australia, which was one o...

Clare Dowd commented on Obama's Artist Corps?: I wanted to share a bit about an existing ArtCorps - and to add to this exc...

Elaine commented on Obama's Artist Corps?: I am an artist, primarily in painting, although I play around with music al...

Aurelie Beatley commented on Obama's Artist Corps?: Dear Mr Rockwell, I stumbled across your blog while looking for informatio...

Jean Holzenthaler commented on Obama's Artist Corps?: I thought I was one of the few people who remebered the 1930's paintings in...

Patricia Haines commented on Obama's Artist Corps?: There are several very successful WRITERS CORPS which have been making majo...

Kiff Gallagher commented on Obama's Artist Corps?: We've opened up a blog channel specifically to discuss Artist Corps at http...

Odds Bodkin, Storyteller and Musician commented on Obama's Artist Corps?: John,I too heard about this initiative and can readily say that after twent...

Liz Woodbury commented on Obama's Artist Corps?: I'm a senior Theater major at Oberlin College. I have been working with stu...

sy rosefelt commented on Obama's Artist Corps?: I do watercolor, pen and in, and acrylic. I teach watercolor and belong to ...