A Novel Proposal: US Secretary of the Arts

In November, during a WNYC radio interview, Quincy Jones indicated that he would “beg” now President Obama for a permanent US Secretary of the Arts.  Musician Jaime Austria took up the charge, creating an online petition in support of Jones’ efforts. To date, 216680 people have signed.

In conceiving of the idea presumably Jones saw a cultural need  that went beyond the jurisdiction of the NEA—i.e. a policy-making entity in addition to the funding agency.  As Jones has pointed out, every other first world country has a “minister of culture.”  Its staggering how much support the European countries give their artists. 

In Jones’ key argument for this position has been the welfare of kids. He believes that art has the power to transform education, give kids a deeply-grounded (as opposed to artificial and fleeting) sense of self, and ultimately help prevent the alienation and self-hatred that has led to senseless mass killings in American schools.  

Certainly HEW could be tasked with improving arts education. But there’s a bigger picture here. Promoting ones culture at the international level is perhaps the most effective form of informal diplomacy.  Sure, to paraphrase Wim Wenders, American culture has colonized the subconscious of peoples around the globe.  But couldn’t elevating the focus on the arts to the Cabinet level demonstrate a (new) seriousness in our belief in the glorious multiplicity of influences that make up the American culture? Wouldn’t that be a good thing as we work to repair deteriorated relationships abroad?  

Sign the Petition

Wider Connections

Colin Stutz weighs in.

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Rolling Stone

Washington Post


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