Expanding The National Arts Office Discussion

There has been some intriguing discussion throughout the blogosphere following the article from earlier this week about the possibility of a White House based Office of the Arts. Ian Wilhelm picked up on the conversation via an article he posted at the Chronicle of Philanthropy and reader response to the idea has been surprising (at least, to me). In general, most of those leaving comments seem to be leery of the idea of a new arts office and/or increased possibilities for redundant spending…

In particular, these questions were thought-provoking:

“Is the problem that not enough people appreciate the value of the arts? Or is it that the arts are not exciting sufficient local enthusiasm and support?” – jane

Compelling arguments in support of the creation of a centralized Federal arts office can be found in an 11/26/2008 online discussion at the Chronicle of Philanthropy (that was in turn inspired by a radio appearance by Quincy Jones on WNYC’s Soundcheck program). One comment in that discussion is worth noting:

“There are already two federally funded organizations – the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, whose directors are appointed by the President. Would it not make more sense to call for a Secretary of Culture with a broader portfolio and who would oversee the 2 endowments?” – Leni

I am cautiously optimist that the incoming administration will be able to elevate the status of Federal arts programs along with their respective bureaucracies.
I am cautiously optimist that the incoming administration will be able to elevate the status of Federal arts programs along with their respective bureaucracies.

I am particularly fond of this point of view in that it maintains a strong potential to eliminate internal redundancies and strengthen the image of overall Federal arts funding. As a result, this would not only help alleviate potential pressure from the scrutiny of the White House’s new chief performance officer but it could set up a new Federal arts funding program capable of serving as a benchmark for other Federal program renovations.

If real change inside the Federal government is indeed on the horizon it will initially emerge from departments under direct control of the Executive branch. I am cautiously optimist that the incoming administration will be able to elevate the status of Federal arts programs along with their respective bureaucracies. If in order to accomplish this task it requires a complete overhaul of existing Federal programs, than the sooner they engage the process the better.


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About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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1 thought on “Expanding The National Arts Office Discussion

  1. The idea that “not enough people appreciate the value of the arts”, as you quote Jane as saying, is absurd. People consume art constantly. Americans watch a huge amount of TV and listen to lots and lots of music. In fact, Americans are so into listening to music that they download it illegally so they can get access to more of it.

    Of course what Jane actually means is that not enough people appreciate the value of the arts that Jane personally enjoys. That sort of “high-art” chauvinism where the popular arts don’t count as part of “the arts” is a serious problem. Any government programs or offices or positions dealing with The Arts needs to deal with all of the arts, not just the traditionally elite genres.

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