I was visiting the website of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) today and…
Wait a minute you say, there is no Department of Arts and Culture in the U.S. government, that sort of business is handled by the National Endowment for the Arts.
You would right about that, but even though I know that the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture is not a government agency, it takes me a second to remember that. (The first few times I saw it mentioned, it took longer.)
So yes, technically Congress won’t vote to fund the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.
There is something delightfully subversive about the name because it seems to tap into “lie repeated often enough becomes the truth” aspect of human nature.
Back in 2008/2009 when Barack Obama was first about to take office, there was a lot of conversation about how he should add a Secretary of Arts and Culture to his Cabinet.
While that hasn’t formally manifested within the government, I can’t help but think that USDAC is a fulfillment of that wish and the organizers weren’t going to allow something as pesky as the lack of government imprimatur to be an impediment.
They may not have the name recognition that the National Endowment for the Arts and Americans for the Arts have, (which granted, may not be that widespread either relative to entire population beyond the public television/radio crowd), but there may be more cachet in declaring you are a Agent for the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture.
You may be getting tired of me repeatedly talking about the effort the Build Public Will for Arts and Culture, but it occurs to me that part of the path to success may be found in fooling people into thinking a government agency is actively going out and working to promote arts and culture.
If you have been watching NEA Chair Jane Chu’s Twitter feed, you know she has been doing just that. I am not sure she remembers what her office looks like. But she can use a little help.
A lot of people know about the controversy of government funded smut. They haven’t had personal contact with government agents/employees working to bring them art. Perhaps the perception that they have met such people will help cultivate good-will.
In addition to the writings on their blog and press sections, one of the things that caught my eye a few months back was a piece USDAC Chief Policy Wonk Arlene Goldbard wrote for Grantmakers in the Arts.
For decades I have had conversations with people I meet in dentists’ waiting rooms and on airplanes…I get around to asking if they care about things like how their communities are depicted on television and in the movies, how their heritage cultures are reflected in their kids’ education, and whether their children’s schools still offer theater and music classes along with math, science, and standardized test prep. So far, everybody has said they care.
Then I get around to asking if they care about cultural policy. That usually brings a puzzled look or an indifferent shrug.
Yet except for aficionados, the phrase “cultural policy” conjures something so dry, obscure, and removed from daily life that the two questions may seem to have no connection.
In reality, everyone makes cultural policy.
When a local planning commission approves the destruction of a long-standing Latino neighborhood for the construction of a new freeway or sports stadium, cultural policy is being made,…
When parents and teachers introduce students to heritage cultures through classes and holiday celebrations sharing music, stories, and food, schools are making cultural policy, prioritizing the school’s commitment to cultural competency.
When music venues ban hoodies, they are making cultural policy, establishing who is welcome to take part in local cultural life — and who is not.
This reminds me of Jamie Bennett’s TEDx Talk where he mentions people have an easier time identifying themselves on a continuum with Tiger Woods and Serena Williams based on their sports hobbies, but have a harder time seeing themselves as artists even though they have creative hobbies, too.
In Goldbard’s examples, it is easier to see the impacts of these decisions in a variety of contexts, but miss the fact that there is a cultural component present as well.