Government and the arts

 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?

Comments

"Art Czar"

Well, The Federal Government RARELY, if ever, improves things it takes over. I would fear too much influence for art to need to be "politically correct" or to otherwise meet federal standards. I would prefer things as they are, at least for now.

Keep Government Out of the Arts!

Here's a perspective from the Austrian School of Economics that claims government hinders the arts. Government aid usually jumps on board already highly supported programs to gain political favor. Also, the money tends to flow to those who are the best at filling out forms, not necessarily the best artists. Would we have more art? Possibly. Would it be better? Doubtful.

Check out the podcast here: http://mises.org/resources/5574fca2-0ab0-4caf-8307-6adeb0e80f4a

Also, another point of the lecture was these programs are essentially subsidies for the middle and upper class entertainment needs. People that could typically afford to pay $15 dollars to get into some event can get in for free thanks to the government, but rarely are the programs helpful to the poor.

It's certainly an interesting debate. I just get concerned because whenever I think of state-sponsored art I think of statues of politicians and government propaganda films. Scary!

Some quotes from the great economist Ludwig von Mises:

The most primitive work of art also can express the strongest experience, and it speaks to us, if only we let it.

[Epistemological Problems of Economics p. 46]

A work of art is an attempt to experience the universe as a whole. One cannot analyze or dissect it into parts and comment on it without destroying its intrinsic character.

[Epistemological Problems of Economics p. 136]

There can be no freedom in art and literature where the government determines who shall create them.

[Omnipotent Government p. 52]

t is a hopeless task to interpret a symphony, a painting, or a novel. The interpreter at best tries to tell us something about his reaction to the work…. There are no words to describe the ineffable.

[Theory and History p. 276]