The Presidential Candidates’ Arts Policy Platforms

Have I told you how big a fan of democracy I am?

I’m a really big fan of democracy.

I’m such a big fan of it that I’ll even refer to a constitutional republic as a democracy, just to help it sound cool.

I like the democratic process because it is intended to distribute power over our collective and individual experiences in a manner that elevates human dignity above circumstance.

So, yesterday, when I received a cold-call email from the Obama/Biden campaign with a link to their arts policy platform, I resolved to post both campaigns’ arts policies right here.

I spent about 15 minutes searching the McCain/Palin site for their arts policy platform.  Results:  zilch. Eeek.  Well, I guess Jesse Helms and the Christian Coalition already pushed most artists out of the Republican party with their sensationalist, “moral”ist budget-slashing back in the 90’s.  I imagine they may have introduced a bit of a lightning rod element to “art” among their base, as they have with civil unions, speaking foreign languages, associating with people of non-Christian religions, and maybe even non-evangelical forms of Christianity.

What I found this morning is that a long-worn endeavor to find the McCain/Palin arts policy has already taken place across the internet.  (As on CultureGrrl and Artocracy.)  But, however, alas, finally, it has been published.

So, I present to you the Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin Arts Policy Platforms:

The McCain/Palin Arts Policy Platform

John McCain believes that arts education can play a vital role fostering creativity and expression. He is a strong believer in empowering local school districts to establish priorities based on the needs of local schools and school districts. Schools receiving federal funds for education must be held accountable for providing a quality education in basic subjects critical to ensuring students are prepared to compete and succeed in the global economy. Where these local priorities allow, he believes investing in arts education can play a role in nurturing the creativity of expression so vital to the health of our cultural life and providing a means of creative expression for young people.

Link to PDF of the statement, on artsactionfund.org

The Obama/Biden Arts Policy Platform

Reinvest in Arts Education: To remain competitive in the global economy, America needs to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made this country great. To do so, we must nourish our children’s creative skills. In addition to giving our children the science and math skills they need to compete in the new global context, we should also encourage the ability to think creatively that comes from a meaningful arts education. Unfortunately, many school districts are cutting instructional time for art and music education. Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe that the arts should be a central part of effective teaching and learning. The Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts recently said “The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.” To support greater arts education, Obama will:

  • Expand Public/Private Partnerships Between Schools and Arts Organizations: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will increase resources for the U.S. Department of Education’s Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Grants, which develop public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations. They will also engage the foundation and corporate community to increase support for public/private partnerships.
  • Create an Artist Corps: Barack Obama and Joe Biden support the creation of an “Artists Corps” of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities. Studies in Chicago have demonstrated that test scores improved faster for students enrolled in low-income schools that link arts across the curriculum than scores for students in schools lacking such programs.
  • Publicly Champion the Importance of Arts Education: As president, Barack Obama will use the bully pulpit and the example he will set in the White House to promote the importance of arts and arts education in America. Not only is arts education indispensable for success in a rapidly changing, high skill, information economy, but studies show that arts education raises test scores in other subject areas as well.

Support Increased Funding for the NEA: Over the last 15 years, government funding for the National Endowment for the Arts has been slashed from $175 million annually in 1992 to $125 million today. Barack Obama and Joe Biden support increased funding for the NEA, the support of which enriches schools and neighborhoods all across the nation and helps to promote the economic development of countless communities.

Promote Cultural Diplomacy: American artists, performers and thinkers – representing our values and ideals – can inspire people both at home and all over the world. Through efforts like that of the United States Information Agency, America’s cultural leaders were deployed around the world during the Cold War as artistic ambassadors and helped win the war of ideas by demonstrating to the world the promise of America. Artists can be utilized again to help us win the war of ideas against Islamic extremism. Unfortunately, our resources for cultural diplomacy are at their lowest level in a decade. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will work to reverse this trend and improve and expand public-private partnerships to expand cultural and arts exchanges throughout the world.

Attract Foreign Talent: The flipside to promoting American arts and culture abroad is welcoming members of the foreign arts community to America. Opening America’s doors to students and professional artists provides the kind of two-way cultural understanding that can break down the barriers that feed hatred and fear.  As America tightened visa restrictions after 9/11, the world’s most talented students and artists, who used to come here, went elsewhere. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will streamline the visa process to return America to its rightful place as the world’s top destination for artists and art students.

Provide Health Care to Artists: Finding affordable health coverage has often been one of the most vexing obstacles for artists and those in the creative community. Since many artists work independently or have nontraditional employment relationships, employer-based coverage is unavailable and individual policies are financially out of reach. The Obama-Biden plan will provide all Americans with quality, affordable health care. Their plan includes the creation of a new public program that will allow individuals and small businesses to buy affordable health care similar to that available to federal employees. Their plan also creates a National Health Insurance Exchange to reform the private insurance market and allow Americans to enroll in participating private plans, which would have to provide comprehensive benefits, issue every applicant a policy, and charge fair and stable premiums. For those who still cannot afford coverage, the government will provide a subsidy. His health plan will lower costs for the typical American family by up to $2,500 per year.

Ensure Tax Fairness for Artists: Barack Obama supports the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The Act amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow artists to deduct the fair market value of their work, rather than just the costs of the materials, when they make charitable contributions.

Link to PDF of the Platform on barackobama.com

My Thoughts…

Well, I suppose you could count the number of words in each as a relative measure of which campaign has given more thought to the role of government in the arts in American society.

I’d like to point out that the McCain campaign’s statement doesn’t actually mention anything about art.  It mentions art education.  But, for what?  To strengthen the arts?  Surely not…  Art education, as all arts grant writers know, is to promote creativity in people who will someday remove themselves from any association with the arts.  Arts grant writers take that route, really, because it’s an easier battle than convincing people who are uninvolved in art that art itself, not just teaching kids to make it, makes an important contribution to all levels of society.  It’s a short logical drive to just decide against teaching kids something you expect them to not do as adults.

Moreover, McCain’s statement doesn’t even really say much about art education.  It says more about local control over curriculum.  It says that, as far as the federal government is concerned, if you want money, you’ve got to teach basic subjects first (read: the three Rs).  Then, if you’ve got some time left, throw in some art, it’d be good for the kids.  Now, we all know that under No Child Left Behind (oh no, carrying on Bush’s policy?), that has meant a precipitous decline in K-12 arts education.  I suspect we’re also beginning to see a carry-over into a decline in post-secondary students interested in art.  I would have liked to see something in the statement to affirm that “creativity” and the kinds of critical analysis implicit in art are in themselves important to a globally competitive, or even a happy society.  In the end, the statement looks like a quickly produced platitude by a campaign that doesn’t plan to spend another moment thinking about art.

On Obama’s Arts Platform: Oh, look, the first sentence is exactly what I just said that I wished I’d seen in McCain’s statement! (I didn’t plan that, I swear.)  I am impressed, above all, by how clear it is that the Obama campaign consulted a number of arts professionals in order to draft a comprehensive policy.  As Colin Powell described in his endorsement, it demonstrates an intellectual vigor and an effective approach to leadership.

Not only has his team come up with an in depth policy about the arts, the campaign has established an online community for creative professionals (http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/post/creativeamerica/CGG5p).  They’re putting in a lot of effort to win this artist’s vote through clear explanations and through bringing people together.  It’s no surprise, that’s what the campaign said it would do.

So, the introductory paragraph also states that arts education isn’t really meant to produce more artists.  But, it quotes the Chairman of the NEA to say it.  That’s smart.  Nonetheless, although it’s true that arts education benefits many students who do not become artists, I do wish the introduction would have included a statement about the importance of artists in a society.  Because, our effective importance is only as great as our society wants it to be.

The first two bullet points address trends that are already in place.  I used to have an important sounding title at an arts-education non-profit in Chicago.  I was once an artist working in a low-income school and community.  Those trends were right at the core of our mission and what kept us afloat.  In any case, well beside knowing how well these approaches are working, I accept them as where we are.  Especially regarding the second point, I see them as an acknowledgment that our society has a lot of problems, inequality in education high among them.  And, if artists would like more opportunities, they’re going to have to help.  I’m all for it.

Champion the Importance of Arts Education, Support Increased Funding for the NEA, Promote Cultural Diplomacy, Attract Foreign Talent:  In these statements I see a deliberate counterpoint to trends that have sharply abraded many of us in the arts over the past 15 years.  I’ve already mentioned Jesse Helms and the Christian Coalition.  They attacked the NEA with sensationalism and calculated ignorance, in the name of trimming the federal budget, at a time when many among their usual opposition were also questioning the involvement of government in (supposedly controlling) the arts.  Whoa, did we regret that one…  Many people have also lamented the chilling effect of growing xenophobia and security paranoia on cultural growth and exchange.  I’m glad to see them challenged with an explicit statement.

Health Care: Oh, health care…  I don’t have access to it.  I had it during grad school.  I didn’t have it after I finished grad school, during the time that I taught/administered programs like I mentioned above and when I was most active as an artist and freelance designer/art-related-thing-ist, and also taught as adjunct faculty.  I had it during the 2006-7 academic year, lost it for a month in between 1-year contracts, had it during the ’07-8 year, and cite it as among the largest, though far from the only, reason why I didn’t opt to become “full-time” adjunct faculty.

Tax deductions?  Actually, it seems that charities and fund-raisers are the only places that can sell my work.  Sometimes I’m afraid to find out how far below the normal rate that they actually sell for.  In any case, I never have enough itemized deductions to choose them over the standard.  Perhaps if I could ever buy a home here in the DC Metro, that would change.  That possibility though, makes finding health care look easy.

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