Let me start by saying that this post in no way means that I am a one-issue voter or that I think arts policy is the most important issue facing the nation right now. It is simply relevant to what we're doing here at the Three Ps. MFA is, after all, an abbreviation of "Master of Fine Arts". I also don't expect that this post will sway readers either way in making their decisions this election year. In fact, I had already made my voting decision (based on a combination of other issues) well before I read either of the candidates' positions on the arts.
So why bother reading about said positions in the first place? Well, I've had a lot of conversations lately--face-to-face and online--regarding the position of the practicing artist in this country. Are we just frivolous, superfluous persons or are we doing essential work? Must we empty bedpans in order to be viewed as contributing members of society? So maybe I'm just looking to our candidates' arts policies for some sense of legitimization beyond/outside the subset of art adherents. And killing time in between freelance gigs.
A look at John McCain's campaign website turns up no specific information on arts policy. A Google search turns up this blog entry, which is a place to start. However, when I visited VoteSmart.org, I didn't find any evidence that McCain wants to eliminate the arts. Rather, a look at a policy survey from 2004 shows that he would "slightly decrease" arts funding. But perhaps something has changed since 2004. If anyone has any more current information, I welcome comments below.
Then there's this telling comparison of the candidates' arts policy "stances". Judging by colum inches, Obama's plan is certainly bigger.
So what about Obama's plan? Well, he does address the arts on his campaign website, but you have to do a little hunting. You'll find it listed under "Additional Issues", which is probably as it should be. Predictably, the first point in Obama's plan focuses on children's art education. Again, this is probably as it should be, although it has always been one of my pet peeves that art isn't supported as a lifelong pursuit beyond the public school years. If you say a program or project is targeted at K-12 aged kids, it's a lot easier to fund than, say, a project targeted toward seniors or the 18-34 demographic. But I digress.
Obama's plan quotes the Chair of the NEA (Dana Gioia? The person isn't named): "The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproducts" and goes on to yammer about creating a more well-rounded populace, which seems to reinforce the prevailing notion that artists--people who define their vocation as the creation of art--are extraneous and that the status of "artist" is not one to which youth should aspire.
So, what else? Oh, there's an Artist Corps, increased funding for the NEA (no dollar figure is given), some stuff about cultural diplomacy and exchange, a nod to public/private partnerships (i.e., foist the costs onto private sector foundations and corporations). Nothing groundbreaking here.
The plan includes a heading about health care for artists, which is really just a restatement of Obama's plan to provide "affordable" health care for "everyone."
And then there's this oddly specific mention of the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, which amends the IRS code to allow artists (in this case, visual artists) to deduct the fair market value of their work rather than just supplies and materials come tax season. Which is great. Truly wonderful. For visual artists.
Overall, it's nice that Obama has a plan. But it's a fairly vague plan with a myopic view of what art is, who artists are and the place of art and artists in our society. Again, nothing surprising here.