Secretary of the Arts?

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Photo by Lee Bey — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

The petition’s plea is rather simple:

To:  President Barack Obama

Congratulations and thank you for all you do.
Your good friend Quincy Jones said: “…next conversation I have with President Obama is to beg for a Secretary of Arts.”
[November 14th 2008 WNYC interview by John Schaefer on "Soundcheck."]
We the undersigned support Quincy Jones’ plea.
Thank you.
The Undersigned

This online campaign initiated by musicians Jaime Austria and Peter Weitzner is running until February 16. The goal is to convince President Obama to create a new cabinet level position for the arts in America.

Quincy Jones, who has created the most buzz (as usual) for this idea, is demure (unusual) about whether he would take the position if offered. According to Quincy’s site, he first spoke about the need for Obama to appoint an arts minister when he was on a “book tour to promote his acclaimed coffee table book, The Complete Quincy Jones: My Journey & Passions.” (The man with a long list of significant accomplishments is never shy about his long list of significant accomplishments.)

At the beginning of the presidential campaign, in “Yes, Minister,” we imagined evaluating presidential candidates through the lens of their potential impact on US arts and culture, just as we do for their philosophies of judicial restraint, tax policy, and international relations.

Jones, whose success derives not from government support but from his own commercial acumen, believes the US needs a cabinet level office to promote and support the arts. Jones has said that “food, music, and language are the soul of a country.” According to Jones, the US is losing its soul; the country is disconnected from its artistic roots and spirit.

No doubt, president Obama has presented himself as a “Champion for Arts and Culture.” No doubt, the US is behind other western governments in creating a viable and consistent foundation for non-commercial arts. No doubt, there is common agreement about the importance of cultural diplomacy.

There is doubt, though, on whether a US secretary for the arts makes sense. Even the coverage of this initiative in Rolling Stone magazine coverage garners pro and con responses from the country’s hippest readers.

Many artists and the major arts organizations, led by Americans for the Arts, see an opportunity to bring consensus and clarity to the multiple government agencies involved in the arts (NEA, NEH, Library of Congress, state department), regular access to the president, and an ever-ready advocate for US copyright protection, arts education, and culture diplomacy.

Aside from the ever-ready shrink-the-government crowd, others against the idea feel art-making should stay as far away as possible from government-ruling.

Is it about finding more economic support for the arts outside of the country’s market driven approach to creation? Or, is it about government reaching further into citizen’s lives, in the context of the country’s up-by-your-own-bootstraps mythology.

Either way, it is about the US government’s vision for the creation and enrichment of American culture.

Are you going to sign?

- Bill Reichblum

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One Response to “Secretary of the Arts?”

  1. KadmusArts Culture News » Blog Archive » Arts Press Obama
    January 27th, 2009 00:10

    [...] New York Times Secretary of Arts?? [...]

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