05 November 2009

And the next US Minister of Culture is...?

Trick question. Despite a renewal of the discussion among some global music advocate friends of mine since Obama was elected a year ago, there is no Minister of Culture or Secretary of Culture in the United States. Some think that's probably a good thing, given the dramatic political shifts that can occur from one administration to the next.

On the other hand, having a high-level official whose job it is to promote the positive aspects of USA culture could go a long way toward improving global attitudes about the US at a time when we're still at war in two foreign nations (if you don't count Pakistan...). And it could help reinforce the value of arts education and participation for all Americans. Maybe we need some sort of an arts pyramid, modeled on the government food pyramid.
While there's no indication that Obama is pushing for a new government department, he's certainly showing signs of appreciation for multiculturalism, from the performers at his inauguration right up to this week's announcement of appointments to the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. This group includes everyone from the Librarian of Congress to these private (and some not-so-private) citizens:

Edward Norton, New York NY
Forest Whitaker, Los Angeles, CA
George C. Wolfe, New York, NY
Alfre Woodard, Los Angeles, CA
Kerry Washington, Los Angeles, CA
Anna Wintour, New York, NY
Teresa Heinz Kerry, Washington, DC
Vicki Kennedy, Pacific Palisades, CA
Jill Udall, Santa Fe, NM
Thom Mayne, Los Angeles, CA
Damian Woetzel, New York, NY
Bryan Lourd, Los Angles, CA
Dick Cohen, St. Paul, MN
Ricky Arriola, Miami, FL
Alexa Wesner, Austin, TX
Liz Manne, New York, NY
Anne Luzzatto, New York, NY
Agnes Varis, New York, NY
Reggie Van Lee, Washington, DC
Paula Crown, Chicago, IL
Christine Forester, La Jolla, CA
Madeleine Berman, Franklin, MI
Sarah Jessica Parker, New York, NY
Yo Yo Ma, Boston, MA
Andy Spahn, Universal City, CA

The mission of this group, which has been around since 1982, is to advance "the White House's arts and humanities objectives by working directly with the three primary cultural agencies – National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) – to initiate and support key programs; to recognize excellence in the fields of arts and humanities; and to encourage private-public partnerships around those disciplines. Through the leadership of its Honorary Chairman the First Lady and its federal and private members, the PCAH has compiled an impressive legacy over its tenure including initiating the Medal of Arts and the National Medal for the Humanities, catalyzing signature cultural programs such as Save America's Treasures, Coming Up Taller, and AFI Project: 20/20, and taking the lead on groundbreaking cultural delegations to countries such as China and Mexico. Such achievements rely on the unique role of the President's Committee to work with federal cultural agencies, and civic, corporate, foundation, and private funders to further the United States' national investment in its cultural life. As the President of the United States recognizes that a nation's cultural assets contribute to the vibrancy of its society and the strength of its democracy, the PCAH helps to underscore the civic, social, educational, and historical value of arts and humanities in the life of our nation."

That's a mouthful, and this group certainly doesn't have the prominence of a single minister, such as Brazil's Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil. But they're doing some good work, which you can read about here. Honestly, I'm more inclined to agree with those who favor a decentralized cultural promotion scheme, with states, cities, and private organizations promoting the music and arts that work for their geographical areas.

Do you think it's helpful for a national government to have a minister-level cultural office? Discuss:
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