Secretary of the Arts? Sounds Like a Plan


Quincy Jones, musician, composer, and arranger extraordinaire, has started a petition that has drawn more than 220,000 signatures to date, asking President Obama to consider adding a Secretary of the Arts as a cabinet level post in his administration.

At first blush that might sound rather frivolous in a nation that’s involved in two wars, have people losing their homes, and is currently involved in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. But when given thoughtful consideration, it might just be exactly what America needs, and could very well turn out to be one of the most important cabinet posts in an Obama administration.

What President Obama needs right now is a way to offset Republican efforts against him, and to rally the American people around his programs, initiatives and efforts--and there’s no better way to do that than to enlist the assistance of the entertainment and arts community.

Everyone one is essentially in agreement that America is in for some hard times ahead, but America’s economic woes are not the biggest threat to this nation. We’re going to get past that-- the biggest threat to this nation is the loss of the American spirit, and our confidence that we can survive this crisis. Thus, an organized and highly motivated arts and entertainment community can help us to address that issue, and they can also be of tremendous value in our foreign policy efforts.

Look at the value that our entertainment community provided during the Great Depression and WWII. They rallied America’s efforts close to single-handedly. They both kept America focused on its goal, and also gave us the motivation to reach that goal. It was a well trained and courageous military that won the battles overseas, but it was Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and the Maguire Sisters that won the battle on the domestic front. And as a result of these efforts, the thirties and forties turned out to be one of the most highly productive and creative periods in this nation’s history.

We must also acknowledge that America has a cunning and insidious domestic foe to overcome. In spite of their rhetoric and pledges to the contrary, the Republican Party has a vested interest in seeing America fail. They see they’re interest as totally opposed to that of the American people. So when Rush Limbaugh said he hopes President Obama fails, he wasn’t alone in that point of view, he was just the only one dumb enough to say it out loud.

So let there be no doubt about the fact that there is nothing the Republican Party won’t do to undermine President Obama’s efforts to cure America’s woes--with the possible exception of promoting those initiatives that enhance the business interest of their fat-cat friends. We should also not delude ourselves in the understanding that absolutely nothing would make the Republican leadership more effusive with delighted than seeing the American people suffer like we’ve never suffered before for the next four years. Therefore, we can expect them to pull out all stops to obstruct, frustrate, and delay, all efforts to bring relief to America’s poor and middle class under President Obama’s administration.

That’s where a strong and influential secretary of the arts would be of great value. An organized entertainment and arts community could be used to put both social and political pressure on the Republican leadership against sabotaging the American people. The arts community could rally the people to such a fever pitch over curing our national woes, that any efforts by the Republican Party to sabotage that effort would be political suicide. If the American people can be rallied to give their lives in a senseless war, they can certainly be rallied in their own best interest.

Finally, and just as important to the nation’s long-term goals, an innovative and influential secretary of the arts could have an extremely positive influence on both artistic responsibility, and the use of the arts as an educational tool. He or she could engage the nation, and the arts community, in a discussion over using the arts to enhance our lives, rather than drag us down. That doesn’t mean to engage in censorship, but rather, to promote, educate, and encourage personal responsibility through the arts--with everything from cartoons, movies, and music, to the advertising billboards along our roads and highways.

We could use the arts to change the way we relate to one another. We could promote knowledge, education, and community enhancement as cool, and crime, drug use, and irresponsibility as uncool–in other words, do just the opposite of what we’re currently doing.

So I’d say, let’s go for it. It may be just what we need to turn our society around. We already have everything we need in place, so now all we need is the will to do it, and someone influential and creative enough to change our mindset. We could even take a page out of GW’s book, and call it, "A War on Ignorance."

Now that’s something I could rally behind. 


Secretary of the Arts? Sounds Like a Plan

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Here is the petition: Petition to create a Cabinet Position of Secretary of the Arts

The current budget for the National Endowment for the Arts is under $200 million a year. That works out to 50 cents for every man, woman, and child in this nation. That's pathetic. What most people don't realize is that our heritage, who we are as a nation, is recorded by the artists. It's our legacy.

Look at history. What do we remember? The art. We remember the sculpture, the paintings, the frescos, the music, the literature. We don't remember unless it's immortalized by the artists.

When anyone complains about federal spending for the arts, I now just whip out a 5 dollar bill and reimburse them for their last ten years share of the cost.

I am reminded of WPA support to the artists in the 1930s. Many different projects were supported and many wonderful career established. I am thinking of the folkways project to preserve Appalachian music and the support of great theater. That's how Arthur Miller got his start.

It seems to me a great shame that theater, concert and opera  prices in New York and Washington DC are prohibitively expensive. I would hope for a real artistic rennaissance in which top live performances of my favorites such as Mozart and the three B's, Shakespeare, Miller, poetry readings, ballet, the viusal arts, our great jazz tradition, etc., and not just the 'classics; but the music and art of NOW.

In my opinion this would mean a serious effort to promote art in communities by which I mean supporting touring companies but also supporting local group efforts. As someone who covered the local arts beat here in Loudoun, I came to appreciate the real value of efforts which were not even at the semi-professional level. It is really a joyful experience to participate in community art productions, and even when they are not perfect they have their own kind of beauty, a beautiful that comes out of a joint creative effort. I have become convinced that broad-based involvement in the arts helps a community to flourish on all levels.

 It is also the case that artists have to eat!!!! We should be investing in our artists. The top start may be getting big bucks but there are plenty of people who never get the chance to develop or who have a lot to offer even if they do not garner the top spots.