The new president is giving every mildly liberal person reason to hope their pet cause might be advaced in the next four years. So what about my pet cause: creative freedom?
Things appear optimistic. After all Barack Obama enters office with the first-ever presidential arts platform drafted during the campaign. Among other things the platform promises increased funds for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Yet, those who think that now is the time to shake the status quo and make really edgy and critical art should keep in mind that the platform’s top priorities are all related to art education. They include: expanding public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations; Creating an Artists Corps, a national service concept that, much like the Peace Corps, would draft legions of young talent into service across the nation’s schools and arts organizations; and publicly championing the importance of arts education.
To view the platform, go to www.barackobama.com/pdf/issues/additional/Obama_FactSheet_Arts.pdf
If the administration goes ahead with this platform in spite of the present economic crunch it will certainly both give work to many artists and help raise a generation that values the arts. Both laudable effects. One thing we cannot expect from Obama’s platform in its present state, however, is support for original art that pushes boundaries – the type of art that was demonized and lost government support in the 1990s as a result of the right-wing Republican war on the NEA. This type of art will, in all likelihood, still remain object of controversy and potential censorship attempts.
It is sad that openly supporting genuinely free artistic expression is tough even for a President with Obama’s mandate. But we have reason to be hopeful – most requests for the removal or defunding of art come from people who have no background in the arts. A new generation, exposed to art from an early age, will grow with a better understanding of what art means and does and will be less likely to take offense at artistic expression. (Of course, we are hoping that, contrary to recent precedent, art teachers will not be fired for taking students to a museum where they could see nudes and student art would not be ripped down by school administrators that don’t like it.)
While we are waiting for that Obama generation to grow up, let us try to keep creative freedom alive and support art’s critical function in the face of controversy and inevitable opposition.