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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

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Executive Director's Column

NASAA Executive Director Jonathan Katz

NASAA's policy paper Advancing America's Creativity: An Agenda for Leadership in Support of the Arts and Cultural Activities laid out a set of principles that the new president, the new Congress and the state arts agencies can follow to achieve their shared goals in the most effective ways. We prepared this set of recommendations in 2008, while political campaigns were in full swing, for two purposes. One was to share our ideas with candidates and their supporters. The other was to inform others in the cultural community as they developed their own policy agendas.

I am pleased to report that in addition to the group meeting with transition team members Bill Ivey and Anne Luzzatto that has received extensive media coverage, I had an individual appointment with them to represent state arts agency perceptions of current issues and priorities for federal cultural policy. Now that the Obama Arts Policy Committee has identified its priorities and passed them along to the transition team, and the House has crafted its economic stimulus package, we can see how NASAA's policy principles are reflected and should be applied.

NEA Funding

The House version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act ("economic stimulus package") includes $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), with the stipulation that 40% of these funds shall go to state arts agencies.

Advancing America's Creativity:

Item II: "As a major priority, fund the NEA to make flexible grants that employ American arts organizations and artists to create, distribute and explore with audiences the meaningful arts experiences that provide economic, educational and civic benefits."

Item III: "We urge the federal government to continue to mandate 40% of the NEA program budget for management by the state arts agencies."

NASAA Comment and Action: The House version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act reflects NASAA positions. NASAA carries the message on behalf of state arts agencies that the arts are an industry and that not-for-profit jobs in that industry sustain households and stimulate the economy. We believe the NEA most effectively implements its leadership roles by maintaining a balance of direct resource allocation and allocation through states. NASAA has already been, and must continue to be, vigilant to ensure that state arts agency knowledge of state conditions and ability to reach local communities, arts organizations and artists will be drawn upon to add impact to the national economic stimulus effort.

National Arts Leadership

An online petition inspired by Quincy Jones urges creation of a "Secretary of the Arts" position.

Advancing America's Creativity:

Item VII: Encourages creation of "a mechanism in the executive branch that draws upon the leadership of the NEA and the NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities]," specifically "in order to address significant national issues that cut across the purview of federal agencies and congressional committees—such as intellectual property rights, use of digital technologies, charitable giving policy, immigration and visitor policy," and cultural commerce between nations.

NASAA Comment and Action: NASAA favors a model that provides White House leadership and a White House portfolio for cultural issues, but that does not encumber the heads of the cultural agencies (NEA, NEH, Institute of Museum and Library Services, etc.) with an administrative bureaucrat between them and the president, between them and the Office of Management and Budget during budget development, and between them and members of Congress. A White House representative on big issues with authority to convene agencies as appropriate to address these issues could work. So could creative adaptation of the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities, which includes many federal agencies and is already on the books—currently the locus of the program that insures major foreign and domestic art exhibitions.

In the legislative branch, the model of a joint House-Senate committee on the arts has been tested in several states; something like that for cultural issues in Congress might be worthwhile to discuss with congressional leaders. NASAA has joined with more than 20 other national service organizations in endorsing a policy statement entitled Arts Policy in the New Administration, in which one recommendation is the appointment of a senior official to coordinate arts and cultural policies across agency lines. NASAA has shared its position on this issue with the members of the Obama campaign Arts Policy Committee, who continue to communicate on-line.

Other Recommendations

The Obama campaign Arts Policy Committee articulated priorities that include increasing the budget of the NEA, strengthening arts education, cultural diplomacy, and creating an artist corps. These recommendations informed the transition team and now White House domestic policy staff.

Advancing America's Creativity:

Item II: As a step in aligning NEA goals with appropriate funding to implement them, "Increase the NEA budget to $319.2 million (the FY 1992 level of $176M adjusted for inflation and population)."

Item IV: "Provide NEA the resources to lead federal efforts to ensure that all Americans receive the quality of arts education that develops their imaginative and innovative skills, and thereby prepares them to compete successfully in the 21st century workplace."

Item V: "Encourage all agencies of the federal government to draw upon the resources of the arts to achieve their goals by including eligibility for the arts field in their programs."

NASAA Comment and Action: NASAA priorities were well reflected in the Obama Arts Policy Committee recommendations and the Cultural Advocacy Group statement Arts Policy in the New Administration, which set the agenda for the meeting on January 15 at which I and other service organization representatives met with transition team members Bill Ivey and Anne Luzzatto.

The active engagement of state arts agency leaders and their constituents will be critical to the successful implementation of the several priorities that NASAA shares with the new administration and Congress. NASAA Legislative Counsel Tom Birch and I will keep you informed of when and how your action can be most effective.