There has been a debate in the arts community since Obama’s election about the proper government role for the arts in the US Federal government. The Kennedy Center’s Michael Kaiser discussed this a few days ago on the Huffington Post. He doesn’t think we need the equivalent of a UK Minister of Culture:
Instead, we need someone in the administration, perhaps the new Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, to provide leadership and coordination to ensure that all grants-making agencies are working in a common direction and that the money expended creates an arts ecology that benefits all Americans. We need policies in at least three key areas: sustaining American arts organizations (both large and small), arts education, and cultural diplomacy.
The arts have so much to contribute to this nation. We can teach our children to be the creative thinkers that our economy requires now and in the future, we can help rebuild the image of our nation abroad, we can assist in the effort to bolster tourism in the wake of the current economic crisis, and we can publicly celebrate the diversity of our nation.
Meanwhile, back in the UK, Nicholas Serota is bemoaning the quality of potential candidates to fulfill the Minister of Culture cabinet post in Gordon Brown’s government. Others, like Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, disagree:
“I think Parliament is seething with closet aesthetes… there is now a minister in the Cabinet who is responsible [for the arts], which was not the case when I was appointed,” Mr MacGregor said. “Now the arts are an issue politically in a way they weren’t 20 years ago.”
When Sir Nicholas took over the Tate it was in a perilous state. The then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, had declared that the arts would be subject to market forces. Although the Tate received a government grant, it was not enough to provide for major purchases, especially in the late 1980s when the art market was inflated.
Sir Nicholas said yesterday that the landscape had only “marginally” changed since the Tory government of two decades ago, in spite of greater funding secured by former Culture secretaries such as James Purnell, and the free museum and galleries admission schemes that were implemented by Chris Smith.
Sir Nicholas predicted that galleries and museums could face a tough five years as a result of the recession, but that while corporate sponsorship might have decreased, the generosity of individual benefactors had continued. He added that new acquisitions would inevitably become harder to secure.
Needed: A Federal Arts Policy (Huffington Post)
Has Politics Lost the Art of Culutre? (Independent)