The Role of Government

The Role of Government

Jun 28, 2012

Whenever people see "government" or "politics" in article titles, they tend to either have or prepare for a reaction. With the election just around the corner, more than ever we are focused on what we would like to see improved in our country and on who we think is capable of implementing the change. The election season and discussions I have had with some very engaged arts advocacy friends of mine have caused me to wonder: When it comes to the arts, what is the role of government in the United States? Even more daunting than that question was the realization of my own ignorance - and I know I'm not alone.

The more I thought about this idea of government, the more I realized how clueless I am as to what local and national government actually do. I have perused the National Endowment for the Arts website and come across local public school restrictions on music education, but beyond that I have very little understanding of government's relationship to the arts. Did I miss the bus or does everyone feel this uninformed? I know more about the role of corporations and private sponsors in supporting musical organizations than I do anything else. Though I always assumed this had to do with government's minimal involvement, I know that my mentality was encouraged by my conservatory education. I can count the number of times that government involvement / funding was discussed on one hand, but I would have to be a millipede in order to put up how many times we talked about Neapolitan chords. If knowledge is power, what are we prepared to fight for? Comprehension of harmony is essential to every musician, but isn't a basic understanding of how government organizations impact our careers just as important?

It is just as crucial to recognize what is not working / impeding the growth of our organizations as it is to know how to maximize the resources that are already provided. This past year, I started an initiative that brings musicians into the Northwestern Memorial Hospital to play for cancer patients. I am excited to see the program growing, but I need some financial assistance to give the musicians the resources they need to keep up with the expansion. A woman who runs a similar program in Madison, Wisconsin emailed me and told me about grants she has applied for / received to help her group be a success. What great news - the government can help! But how is it that after six years of college music education, the only thing I know about grants is from a woman I have never met and from my own private research?

Does the current role government plays in the arts need to be included in music education? If you had to summarize the role of local or federal government in the arts today, what would you say? We can all agree that the arts are invaluable to our society (I love what Linda Ronstadt says in the video above), but coming to a consensus on where government fits into the equation is not as easy. Please comment if you have anything to share - I look forward to hearing your thoughts.




RE Government Role in the Arts

You ask some really thoughtful questions. Bravo! I think the statement in your last paragraph is flawed...."We can all agree that that the arts are invaluable to our society." I wish we could all agree on this, but I'm afraid it is not the case. And that to me is the crux of the whole problem. All the other problems can't be addressed until this one problem is addressed, and in a most convincing way. I think everyone in the arts knows full well how invaluable the arts are to our society. But members of congress? So many do not think so at all. And I do think that this is the result of poor music education on kids that are now adults.  Certainly, the kids of the past that have had poor arts education and had those subjects treated as electives instead of "necessary", are now adults who don't find the arts necessary at all.  I'm sure you see where I'm going with this....

Government in Arts

This is such a timely topic with the recent release of the Chicago Culture Plan and all of the media attention it has generated.  I don't think you can consider the political implications of supporting the arts becuase the decisions made by our "representatives" are all about what their donors care about, and even more, what will help them get re-elected.  The NEA became a "culture war" issue because it was a way for republicans to please their base without having to alienate an important voting block. I hate to sound so cynical, but I truly believe that most politician's stances towards the arts have almost nothing to do with the inherent value of the arts in society, or even about their own interests and preferences.
There are exceptions.  Our past and current mayors had/have a real understading of, and commitment to the arts. I'm sure there are republicans who do so as well, though I suspect there are fewer of them.  Bottom line, I hate to see the arts politicized in any way because if we can't get past partisianship in this arena, we truly are doomed.

Slight misunderstanding

Thank you so much for your feedback! I think perhaps I was unclear in my statements though - when writing "we can all agree", the "we" was more or less referring to those who visit this site. Even within the community of musicians and music lovers there are disagreements about how public funding should take part in the arts.
This of course does not take anything away from the issue you raise as well. When such a great amount of people in our country (particularly those in Congress and political positions of power as you mention) still fail to appreciate the value of arts in our society, making progress is extremely difficult. Though if we as those who appreciate the arts fully can unite on a common agenda or plan, more could be done in order to bring the arts to the center of our country's values.

Hi Allegra, thank you for

Hi Allegra, thank you for doing this! You always write so beautiful.

I will try to comment on what you said:

"But how is it that after six years of college music education, the only thing I know about grants is from a woman I have never met and from my own private research?"

Sometimes you hear from a friend or a teacher "I applied for scholarship/grants/competitions and the deadline was YESTERDAY".
-Well thank you for telling me, my friend. Next time I hope you tell me a day before the deadline and not after the deadline.

Even people who already have big careers and they are in their 50s or even 60s are still competitive and many of them don't want to share these kinds of information with their students. Maybe I'm wrong - and I hope I'm wrong. But again, "...the only thing I know about grants is from a woman I have never met and from my own private research."

Thanks again, Allegra! I look forward to hearing from you again!


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