A waning economy, the war in Iraq and health care have been big issues in this year’s presidential primary campaigns. Policies on the arts also have made their way into some candidates’ platforms. This development is part of a concerted national effort as WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer reports.
Back in the fall of 2006, when presidential contenders began holding talks with groups in New Hampshire, some arts advocates showed up regularly. Representatives from the New Hampshire Citizens for the Arts and the federal organization Americans for the Arts asked candidates questions about their views on arts education, on support for the National Endowment for the Arts and on the potential role for the arts in diplomatic cultural exchanges.
Narric Rome works for Americans for the Arts.
“This is the first time that a coordinated effort to address the arts in a national campaign had been attempted and getting involved real early on the ground in early primary states has really been beneficial to the strategy,” he says.
The questions sparked responses that came in later speeches and sound bites. In January 2007 on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee touted the arts in education and in a creative economy. In stump speeches, he and most of the Democratic candidates talked about the arts.
Now, more than a year later, Senators Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have specific promises to support the arts posted on their Web pages. While Senator John McCain has not specified any art policies, Senator Clinton proposes a $200 million increase in the NEA budget. Senator Obama took up the subject at a rally last month in Pennsylvania.
“The Endowment for the Arts, our support of the public arts, our support for arts institutions, all those things should be a priority and they don’t cost that much money.” he said.
In recent years, Americans for the Arts has beefed up its efforts to promote the arts by building a nationwide network of advocates and working more closely with affiliated state organizations like Arts Kentucky. Both groups send out e-mails about arts legislation and provide voting records on their Web sites. Through the Internet and at events they make the case for the arts.
Again, Narric Rome.
“The arts are one segment of our national public policy spectrum but the research that we have in a growing way shows that the arts are a core element to local economic development plans,” Rome says.
Americans for the Arts has conducted several studies on local economies. A January 2006 study counted 22,000 employees in arts-related businesses in Kentucky. Last year, a study on Louisville reported that the area’s arts and culture groups generated nearly $23 million in local and state revenue. Arts Kentucky has been using that information to make its case.
David Cupps is Arts Kentucky’s executive director. He says having candidates talk about the arts will definitely help persuade more people about the importance of public support, but he doesn’t expect it to make that much of a difference with most individual voters.
“I don’t expect people to be single issue voters and that this is going to be the thing that they make their decision on but I think this is one piece of the pie, and for the people where it’s their livelihood, it might move them quite a bit,” Cupps says.
Louisville sculptor Brad White is one such voter. He says he knows that other issues seem more crucial these days, but believes that more recognition and funding are overdue. He says the recent discussions by candidates can bring about — change.
“If someone of that stature is talking about it and raising awareness of it, then other people are going to get behind it and think it’s important. I mean they do that with negative issues all the time,” he says.
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