When it comes to arts policy, the Obama administration has been a disappointment. It has helped to eliminate arts-related jobs by proposing spending cuts for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. After saying that art education would be a top arts-policy focus, the Obama administration has allowed art education funding to be slashed. Obama has failed to pursue most of the arts-related campaign promises he made in 2008. Instead, tokenism: The White House has been good at letting us know when it’s hung some new art. [Image: President Obama straightens Thomas Moran's The Three Tetons (1895) in the Oval Office. Photo by Pete Souza via the White House Flickr stream.]
No one in the White House seems even remotely interested in arts policy or arts-related jobs. Given that Obama was the first presidential candidate to offer a set of arts-related policy proposals, the White House’s shrug at the arts has been all the more glaring. However, a new initiative just-launched by the White House may provide a way for frustrated and disappointed arts lovers to get some answers — and to put some ideas in front of the White House staff.
Last week the Obama administration announced a new public-input initiative called We the People. The idea is astonishingly straightforward: The White House promises a response to any online petition that gains 5,000 signatures. (Or at least that’s the “initial threshold.”) We the People is modeled after a program in the UK called e-petitions (which has a 100,000 signatures threshold for response). The White House program has yet to officially launch, but you can read more about the process here.
It remains to be seen how the new initiative will work, but in launching it the White House has already found art useful: In an effort to create a link between its new idea and the beginnings of American democracy, the new We the People website features a famous painting: Howard Chandler Christy’s Scene at the Signing of the U.S. Constitution. (The painting, commissioned by Congress and painted in 1940 and at left, is located along the East Stairway in the House of Representatives wing of the Capitol.)
Given that the White House has been substantially disinterested in arts policy, here’s hoping that a few arts lovers or a few arts institutions come up with petition ideas, promote them among their social media followers and put them in front of the White House. I’d particularly like to see the White House formally establish a White House arts adviser, to create an office that would put consideration of the arts inside the rooms where policy is made. (Bonus: The White House doesn’t seem to support arts-related spending and this office would be inexpensive.) I’ll keep my eyes open for good ideas to feature here. As ever, feel free to use MAN’s comments to bat around some ideas.