The Republican candidate has made it clear that he intends to shut down the National Endowment for the Arts which, for the past half-century has funneled small amounts of seed capital into deserving causes. Following a huge debate on this topic, Slipped Disc has commissioned a series of articles on the state of the arts in the United States under the Obama administration.
Will the arts be better off in an Obama second term?
To start the ball rolling, here’s Nicholas Alexander Brown, a Conductor and Arts Administrator based in Washington, D.C. He argues that the arts were badly hit in the first half of the term, followed by an upward correction in the second. Are the arts worse off than in 2008?
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the Arts
By Nicholas Alexander Brown
American presidents have served as barometers for the health of the Arts in America as early as the turn of the nineteenth century. It was Thomas Jefferson’s sale of his personal library to Congress in 1815 which established the Library of Congress, one third of which is comprised of books relating to “Imagination,” Jefferson’s own classification topics relating to the creative arts.
It is without question that President Barack Obama assumed the United States presidency in the midst of one of the greatest global economic crises ever recorded. Therefore, it is no surprise that his policies towards the Arts have been impacted by the fiscal climate. During his 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama developed a structured arts policy, promising to advocate and invest in arts education, develop private/public sector relationships with schools and arts institutions, establish an “Artist Corps” and provide health care to artists.
While advances have been made with many of these promises, there have been significant reductions to government arts agency budgets during the President’s tenure. Yes, budgets of the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities were reduced by 13% in the 2012 budget proposal. There have also been significant cuts to every other government agency, from the Department of Defense to the Executive Office. The reductions in arts funding ought to be viewed as a result of the times rather than a desire to undermine the vitality of the American creativity.
The President’s commitment to the Arts may be evaluated in the trend of arts funding in his budget proposals from 2009 to present, not to mention that he is a distinguished author. Americans for the Arts, a non-partisan advocacy organization, produced a study evaluating the well-being of the Arts in the United States this year. After 2009, which received the lowest index rating since 1998, there was a slight increase in 2010. The President’s policies reflect a desire to gradually increase federal government funding for the Arts in a cautious manner which accounts for the current economic instability.
The 2013 budget proposal sees a 5% increase for the principal cultural agencies: the NEA, NEH, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Smithsonian, Kennedy Center and National Gallery of Art. Hardly enough to compensate for previous reductions in full, there has nonetheless been a clear impetus from the administration to achieve its goals through effective uses of available means. The key to this mission has been innovative programming and educational efforts, such as the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities establishment of the Turnaround Arts Initiative, working in low-performing schools to increase student engagement in the Arts through public and private sector partnerships.
Perhaps both candidates for president should take heed of FDR’s success with the Works Progress Administration and its Federal Music, Art and Theatre Projects, for the sake of innovating ways to put unemployed artists to work. It seems like a win-win to provide jobs to thespians, musicians and artists, while formally implementing an increased focus on arts education and encouraging creativity.
(Remember Inauguration Day?)