Hey Joe — appoint a culture secretary

Over the next several weeks, President-elect Joe Biden will assemble his Cabinet. Politicos are scrutinizing the rumored contenders, from the suddenly all-important post of Health and Human Services, to the question of if there will be a place available for Biden’s viral surrogate Pete Buttigieg (Veterans Affairs, perhaps?).

But unlike the governments of at least 50 other countries — including France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Ethiopia, Thailand, and Syria — there will be no culture czar to look for on Biden’s list. The United States has no Department of Culture, and thus no Secretary of the Arts.

That doesn’t mean Biden shouldn’t attempt to create such a post while president: In the aftermath of a White House that was historically hostile to the arts, and in the midst of a pandemic that threatens some of the country’s most treasured institutions, the American people need a centralized official with a direct line to the president to advocate for the humanities, both as a spiritual necessity and an economic one.

For most of its modern history, the U.S. has supported the arts through a fractured web of offices and institutions: The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) are the biggies, and are given White House-appointed leaders. Other institutions, like the Smithsonian Institution or the National Gallery of Art, are likewise funded by the government. The White House also traditionally had its own volunteer advisory group, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and there are some cultural programs that fall under the purview of the State Department and the Department of Education. Still, the support offered by these groups collectively is relatively meager: the NEA and the NEH cost taxpayers “approximately 0.004 percent of the federal budget individually,” The Atlantic reports. For the most part, arts in the United States have to rely on private funding, and “efforts to create a centralized cultural agency” in the past have been “hampered at least in part by negative associations with Nazi propaganda and ‘cultural planning’ in the USSR,” Slate has written.

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The institutions we do have in place, meanwhile, are frequently under attack. The National Endowments for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities in particular have been regular targets for conservatives, who promise to eliminate their “wasteful” spending. President Trump, though, was exceptionally hostile: in 2017, 2018, and 2019, he attempted to entirely defund the NEA and NEH (Congress thrice rejected his call to cut the endowments, even boosting the budgets slightly). The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities also lapsed under Trump, after 16 of the 17 members resigned in protest over his response to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia; Trump then announced he would not be renewing the Executive Order to continue the committee. Trump, further, has shown only marginal interest in culture, naming his first and only National Humanities Medal …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics

      

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