Monday, November 10, 2008

The Obama Agenda for the Arts, Artists and orphan artworks

Study for Mr Croot's Long Pod Chillis
8" x 8", graphite on mountboard

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

It's always interesting to take a look at what the agenda for the arts looks like when a national adminstration changes. Even though I'm not a citizen of the USA, like Canadian Robert Genn I've been wondering what's in store. Now that the election is over, it's possible to review campaign statements as a basis for seeing whether and how any of this gets translated into action.

Here's what Robert had to say last week in Eyes over the border. Plus you'll find below a summary of what I could find - plus a comment on a major policy gap relating to orphan artwork.

On my travels around the Internet for this post, I came across the Americans for the Arts Action Fund website and their candidate arts policy links - a summary of the policy position statements as collected from the primary candidates for President from each party. I've not heard of this before but it looks as if it's a advocacy group for the arts.

First off, I was very impressed that I could actually find a campaign factsheet (as a pdf file) about the new administration's position on the arts. I'm more used to seeing a few lines or a couple of paragraphs!

Obviously this statement relates to arts generally rather than just visual or fine art but the tenor of the statement is helpful in establising the new administration's perspective on the importance of the arts. The AAAF website includes three policy statememts altogether:
  • Policy Statement #1 which appears to be an initial statement plus a record of positions taken;
  • Policy Statement #2; which replicates the statement from the Obama website cited below
  • Policy Statement #3 which contains details of the people Obama National Arts Policy Committee - obviously I don't know who any of these people are - but I'd welcome comments on the participants)
It is unprecedented, no presidential candidate in recent times has addressed cultural issues in such detail."
Robert L. Lynch, CEO of "Americans for the Arts," a Washington-based arts advocacy group.
The Obama Factsheet Arts statement indicates support for:
  • an overarching theme of reinvestment in arts education. (Check out current resources in this Congressional Resource Website which provides facts and figures). This will involve:
    • Reinvesting in arts education - including an expansion of Public/Private Partnerships Between Schools and Arts Organizations
    • expanding public grants for arts education - increase resources for the U.S. Department of Education’s Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Grants
    • publicly championing arts education,
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.
Obama Statement
  • creating an artist corps - (like the Peace Corps) - the notion is that young artists are trained to work in low-income schools and their communities. The idea is based on research which has shown that this can have a positive impact on children's test scores. (Here's an example of an existing Art Corps which works overseas. Plus here's another example - the website of Artcorps San Diego which depends upon parent volunteers)
  • increasing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts - Here's the portal for the NEA funding program
The NEA has proved divisive over the years: when commentators speak broadly of “the culture wars”, they refer to a battle of values between liberals and religious conservatives
  • promoting cultural diplomacy - working to reverse the decline in available resources for cultural diplomacy and to promote cultural and arts exchanges
  • attract foreign talent - the notion is that USA used to be a top destination for talented artists and art students but that they went elsewhere when visa restrictions tightened post 9/11.
  • providing health care for artists - this seeks to address the sorts of problems experienced by people not in conventional employment (such as artists) and aims to provide a new public program that will allow individuals and small businesses to buyaffordable health care similar to that available to federal employees (I also came across this database site on my travels which I guess will not be known to everybody - Access to Health Insurance / Resources for Care - click the state to see what is available in your state)
  • ensuring tax fairness for artists - proposes support which will allow artists to deduct the fair market value of their work, rather than just the costs of the materials, when they make charitable contributions.
However it should be noted that the policy statement was drafted before the recent debacle in the financial markets and the calls on government funding for other agendas. It's seems very likely that the timescales for the implementation of any priorities will, at the very least, need to be reworked.

Plus the agenda for the arts does not feature in the main menu of policy statements.

An important omission

The policy statements does not in any way address the issue of orphan artworks which has seen lots of campaigning by visual arts people in recent months.

In the lead-up to the election, may of you will recall a flurry of activity when it became clear that there was a big push on to get the Orphan Works Bill passed and/or transferred to the 'suspension calendar,' which is the place largely non-controversial legislation gets put so that it will get passed quickly. This didn't succeed however there's always next time...............

The ILLUSTRATORS' PARTNERSHIP ORPHAN WORKS BLOG contains a statement of various perspectives as a postmortem on the most recent actions of the anti-copyright lobby - see Orphan Works: A Public Knowledge Postmortem

It seems to me that this omission needs to be addressed as a matter of policy - before the next attempt to undermine artists' rights gets underway. You can be sure that those proposing change will be gearing up to lobby.


Here are a sample of views I found around the internet:

We have tangible historical evidence of how the arts have directly contributed to the fortification of a troubled America. F.D.R.'s New Deal - especially relevant now, as we face the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression - included the Federal Writers Project, Federal Theater Project, Federal Art Project and Federal Music Project, each of which employed artists in ways that served and uplifted society and the economy as a whole.
Lucia Brawley - Huffington Post

Now obviously I'm an ocean away and sitting in London so some of the issues raised above mean little to me - but I hope that American readers find this a useful summary of what's been said to date. It was certainly interesting for me to find out what sort of perspective might be anticipated.

BTW, readers should not fear that this blog is becoming in any way political! I'm not proposing to comment any more on the political dimension to the government agenda for the visual arts - unless something really interesting and/or unusual happens!

If you'd like to comment on any of the issues raised by the above information please do so using the comments function. Please stay on topic and 'play nice' if you want the comment published.

(Note re Study for Mr Croot's Long Pod Chillis: I've got a slight obsession at the moment with the notion of vegetables arranged in circles or other patterns on a plate. You may see this worked up and/or more like this)


  1. I think I'll move to the USA with this arts agenda. It may be ambitious seeing the current state of the economy in the States, but give the man credit for seeing the broad picture.

    Take a look at the current Canadian cuts in arts. And the most recent, cancelling plans to build a permanent home for the Portrait Gallery of Canada. Sigh.

  2. I am so excited to have the prospect of a change in our government! I must say that anything would have been an improvement over what we have endured for the past 8 years, but Obama brings a wealth of new ideas and the charisma to make us all sit up and take notice. You might like to check out his new website:
    We are not used to the idea of a government what publishes plans for a better America!

  3. It is interesting to see the slow and steady increase in endowments for the arts over the last 8 years as opposed to the admin. before.

    I think we will most likely see cuts instead this year, as the bigger picture is just not "doable".

  4. Katherine, as always you've done a bang-up research job. Thank you for letting us know what's out there.

    Yes, it is exciting to see government talking about the arts in a positive way. However, I will expect great caution in the months ahead. The world economy is a much greater wound to be attended to than arts education.

    Don't get me wrong; I wrote a thesis on the cognitive benefits of the creative process. I just think for the moment, there's bigger fish to fry.

    I'm all for hope and change, but I just hope that people don't expect every little change to happen on January 20th. (inauguration day)

    Thanks for all the great resources!!

  5. I absolutely agree that the recent changes in the economy must take priority in terms of what needs to be attended to first - to support the arts you need to have a healthy economy.

    However, I do like the concept that this statement flags up - that in order to have a healthy economy you also need to support the arts.

    I think this statement must be viewed for what it is - a set of aims and a statement of a wish to support and intent.

    There are no dates. There are no figures. I think Obama is very sensible to keep reiterating that people can't expect all the change to happen in the first 100 or even the first 1,000 days. Change doesn't work like that - it takes time.

    Robin - I think the statement is implicitly saying that Obama endorses and wishes to continue support for the increase in funding approved by government in recent years. However the statement highlights that current funding is much lower than it was 15 years ago. (ie "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.",

  6. I agree with everyone--this is a great post, especially for us in the USA, and the research and websites are so helpful.


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