Sarah Palin, Friend or Foe of the Arts?
So with all the ruckus about Sarah Palin's VP nomination, I haven't seen much about her stand on arts funding (I've also been submerged in a Fringe Fest fog for the past week-and-a-half, so if I missed something on ArtsJournal about the issue, my apologies). If she's truly aligned with her running mate John McCain, she'd be all for eliminating arts funding altogether.
Well, turns out it's not that simple. It seems that under Palin's governorship, the Alaska State Council on the Arts (AKSCA) has increased its funding very slightly--just over 4%--to nonprofit artists and organizations. But while on the surface this appears to be promising news, it comes with the caveat that the council ran out of grant funds by the end of the third quarter of FY2007, and thus, "was only able to receive applications for three of the four normal quarterly grant deadlines." As AKSCA's operating report budget changes the information it includes from year to year, I'm not sure if this is due to more money going to fewer organizations or just plain poor planning. However, it does appear that before Palin's tenure, arts funding was on the decline in her state, and has since seen an incremental increase.
The most significant bump in AKSCA's funding comes in grants to schools for arts education, which last year rose just over 31%. This number doesn't include grants for field trip transportation (there were 68 of those, if you were wondering, though the report doesn't say whether this number increased or decreased). Participation in Alaska's Arts Education Consortium--an art teachers' professional development conference--has also increased under Palin, with the number of teachers rising from 27 in 2005 to 70 in 2008.
Of course, just because Palin accepted money for arts funding and kept Alaska's Council on the Arts open doesn't mean she'll be a friend of the arts once she becomes VP, heaven help us (Hey, it's a blog, not a newspaper. Go read the Inquirer if you want impartiality). Considering her ties to Pat Buchanan and far right sympathies, this widely circulated bit from Time magazine about her tenure as Wasilla's mayor:
Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. "She asked the library how she could go about banning books," he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. "The librarian was aghast." That woman, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn't be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire Baker for not giving "full support" to the mayor.
and Artnet's report on her slashing of Wasilla's Dorothy G. Page Museum budget, it's probably safe to say artistic freedom isn't high on Palin's list of national priorities. The Obama/Biden ticket has laid out its Platform in Support of the Arts for all to see, but don't bother searching the word "arts" on the McCain-Palin site, because it's not there. And consider this: if the arts don't even merit a mention on the candidates' website, what will happen to the country's arts and culture economy when they are in office?