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The Salt Lake Tribune helps us out

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In my post this morning about the new Creative Economy Council announced by Gov. Patrick, I mentioned that the impact of this new organization will be directly affected by the policies of our new president, whether it is Sen. Obama or Sen. McCain. This afternoon I received an email from Julie Checkoway of the Salt Lake Tribune, with links to two of her articles about the arts policies of the presidential candidates (thanks Julie!).

Neither piece really disputes what is known (or presumed) about the two candidates, although they do flesh out their policies a bit more than I have seen elsewhere. The most notable aspects of the two articles include a report card from the Americans for the Arts Action Fund and McCain's complete policy statement regarding the arts, which is a mere 4 sentences.

McCain:

"John McCain believes that arts education can play a vital role fostering creativity and expression. He is a strong believer in empowering local school districts to establish priorities based on the needs of local schools and school districts. Schools receiving federal funds for education must be held accountable for providing a quality education in basic subjects critical to ensuring students are prepared to compete and succeed in the global economy. Where these local priorities allow, he believes investing in arts education can play a role in nurturing the creativity of expression so vital to the health of our cultural life and providing a means of creative expression for young people."

That is the sum total of McCain's arts policy, and apparently if you are above the age of 12, McCain does not have much to offer. Obama's statement is far comprehensive, including sections for education, health care for artists, tax fairness for artists, and this odd statement about artists as ideological warriors (Read Obama's full policy at the end of Checkoway's article here):

American artists, performers and thinkers - representing our values and ideals - can inspire people both at home and all over the world. Through efforts like that of the United States Information Agency, America's cultural leaders were deployed around the world during the Cold War as artistic ambassadors and helped win the war of ideas by demonstrating to the world the promise of America. Artists can be utilized again to help us win the war of ideas against Islamic extremism. Unfortunately, our resources for cultural diplomacy are at their lowest level in a decade. Barack Obama will work to reverse this trend and improve and expand public-private partnerships to expand cultural and arts exchanges throughout the world.

Um... I don't think I know any artists interested in being "utilized [...] to help us win the war of ideas against Islamic extremism". The world is far to globalized for the kind of nationalistic propaganda we saw during the Cold War, and I'm not sure that "Islamic extremism" would much care if we can put forth a unified American art front at the next art fair or Bienale.

While I don't like or agree with Obama's plan to use artists as anti-Islamic diplomats, overall I think his plan is more complex and thought-through than McCain's. Obama supports expanding funding to the NEA (although he couches it in the language of "schools and neighborhoods") and seems to be encouraging more of the local arts support that Gov. Patrick is providing in Massachusetts. McCain offers a Republican plan for the arts, which he kept to 4 sentences and only announced at the end of his campaign.

Checkoway also reports on the Americans for the Arts Action Fund's study of the candidates in preparing their report card:

Between 1993 and 2000, McCain voted nine times to cut funding for or terminate entirely the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1989, McCain had also voted to terminate federal funding for art considered "indecent."

By contrast, Obama was co-sponsor of a bill, the "Artist-Museum Partnership Act," (another co-sponsor is Utah Sen. Bob Bennett) which seeks to amend the tax code to allow artists to declare the "fair market value" of their work when making gifts to museums rather than the basic costs of raw materials.

The senators' legislative records were the only solidly parallel information the AAF have had on both candidates.

Both of Checkoway's pieces in the Salt Lake Tribune are worth reading:
McCain's anticipated arts platform comes in at four sentences long
Advocacy group: Obama is more arts-friendly than McCain

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About Author

Matthew Nash is the founder of Big Red & Shiny. He is Associate Professor of Photography and New Media at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and was the 2011-12 Chair of the University Faculty Assembly. Nash is half of the artist collaborative Harvey Loves Harvey, who are currently represented by Gallery Kayafas in Boston and have exhibited in numerous venues since 1992.

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