What will an administration look like that supports and nurtures the arts and arts education?
In the blitz of emails I received leading up to the election last week, one of the most interesting was an email laying out President-Elect Obama’s Platform for the Arts. As an independent filmmaker who toiled for seven years on a documentary until I was granted funding by the Independent Television Service (ITVS), at times I feel like I won the lottery in getting the support and money I needed to finish my first film. I have met countless independent documentary filmmakers, all with incredible stories to tell, and all competing for the same grants to one day see their films on screen. I have been even more blessed to have worked with folks who truly believed in the power of diverse and original voices, and gave me the editorial freedom to tell my unique story. But others have not been so fortunate, and there are many great stories that may never reach an audience.
I became a filmmaker because I truly believe in the power of film to connect us to one another. When we are moved by another human being’s story, it makes us more empathetic, it challenges us, it speaks to some aspect of our own life. And before film, I was an arts teacher. I taught at a children’s performing arts camp one summer, where kids ages 5-14 went from music to theater to dance and arts classes, only breaking for lunch, and where they often continued dancing, playacting, and drawing. I realized what a gift it was to teach art, and how any child, when given an opportunity to learn and express him/herself, shines. I wished that I went to a camp like that growing up!
So I read with great interest Senator Obama’s Platform, as arts funding has dwindled and disappeared, and arts education programs are regularly cut. Here it is:
- EXPAND PUBLIC/PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS BETWEEN SCHOOLS AND ARTS ORGANIZATIONS: Barack Obama 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. Obama will also engage the foundation and corporate community to increase support for public/private partnerships.
- CREATE AN ARTIST CORPS: Barack Obama supports 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 supports 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 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 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 non-traditional employment relationships, employer-based coverage is unavailable and individual policies are financially out of reach. Barack Obama’s plan will provide all Americans with quality, affordable health care. His 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. His 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.
So what do you think? And what can we do, as artists and arts educators, to further this proposed Platform for the Arts?