The more things change, the more they stay the same – or so it seems, what with the economic meltdown and calls for depression-era levels of state intervention in the market economy. So, too, it seems, with the calls for the creation of a new WPA for culture, that’s the Works Progress Administration, the largest New Deal agency created in 1935 to employ millions of people in every locality in the US. Artists and advocates want to ensure that cultural communities are not left out of the stimulus packages being lobbed into the beleaguered US economy.
In a recent article published by the Community Arts Network, Arlene Goldbard argues that the new Obama administration must address cultural policy on a national level “not just [in terms of] jobs and community development, but how to embody the values of creativity, pluralism, participation and equity that animate a culture of democracy.”
Goldbard outlines a number of key policy initiatives that provide some interesting food for thought: that Artists should be expressly included in stimulus bills through a 1% allocation of stimulus packages to support artists and the creation of a cabinet-level position for a Secretary for the Arts – an all the more glaring oversight given Obama’s recent appointment of the first ever Chief Technology Officer. The creation of a Digital Arts Service Corps. to “integrate national service, public digital- infrastructure construction, capacity building for nonprofits, and innovative uses of the technological arts in public and community-based organizations.” Advocates are also calling for the creation of a new federal arts programs, much like the depression-era Public Works of Art Project, the Federal Theatre Project (poigniantly rendered in Tom Robbins film The Cradle Will Rock) and the Federal Writers Project.
Goldbard argues that “A sum equal to two weeks’ worth of Iraq War costs (the National Priorities Project estimates that at $341 million a day) would yield roughly $5 billion to work with.” A staggering sum, really, when you think of the potential benefits and spin-offs. Goldbard outlines a practical plan to distribute monies through regional committees who have a better chance at remaining sensitive to local needs and to build the “soft” program support on a spine of Community Cultural Development Centers, a “brick and mortar” approach to economic stimulus that would see cultural community centers built in neighbourhoods in the same way that libraries are recognized as essential community assets. Goldbard ballparks $100 million as enough to support an average of five centers for each state.
Why, you ask, should the public pay for all of this?
Ignoring for a moment the $5 billion spent every two weeks in Iraq, Goldbard is advancing an argument for cultural democracy. Cultural development has economic spinoffs, yes, and this is essential, but culture-making offers more than economic benefits to a country wrestling with its deomocratic identity
practically, socailly, and symbolically. Some of her arguments include the increasingly central role of culture in all forms of social and community development, investment in the creative imagination of future generations of community leaders, the role of culture in healing social trauma (for example, America’s history of slavery and genocidal practices perpetrated against aboriginal North Americans), social inclusion, the fact that cultural participation is intrinsically pleasurable, and that potential for art to develop our capacity to dream and hope and shape the future we desire.
This is big thinking and the time is exactly right for these kinds of bold and visionary ideas.
To reads the full article, check it out on the Community Art Network’s website.