#169: How The Biden Administration Could Cement Their Place In History

It's just an idea...

US President Joe Biden speaks about the American Rescue Plan and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for small businesses in response to coronavirus, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC, February 22, 2021 (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Deadline:

When Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan last week, the $1.9 trillion bill included a significant bump for arts and cultural agencies: $135 million each to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and $175 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Just weeks earlier, he signed an executive order that changed the formula so that self-employed sole proprietors, the lifeblood of arts and culture, could be eligible for larger PPP loans.

Almost two months into the Biden Administration, arts advocates are encouraged but wish for an even greater commitment: A White House adviser, or even an office of the arts, bringing the U.S. closer to the cultural ministries of other countries. The idea is that an arts presence in the White House will elevate the importance of the creative economy.

Even when the Donald Trump White House proposed zeroing out the funding for the agency and other cultural entities, the Republican-controlled Congress soundly resisted it. Trump handed out the National Medal for the Arts but also let the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities dissolve. That happened after some of the remaining members of the PCAH, appointed during the Obama administration, resigned in protest over Trump’s response to the Charlottesville white nationalist rally.

The PCAH was created by President Ronald Reagan in 1982 to elevate the importance of the arts and through the years. Rachel Goslins, who was executive director of the committee from 2009-15, said that the operating budget came down to rent and three salaries that were split between the NEA and the NEH.

“Every administration kind of used it differently,” Goslins noted. Bill Clinton’s administration saw it as much more of a think tank, producing reports and research around arts and culture. George W. Bush’s administration used it as more of a diplomatic tool. The Obama administration, she said, focused its work on using the arts and humanities on boosting communities."

Man, I DEVOURED this article! What a simple concept, right? Appoint someone who’s job it is to look out for culture the same way we look out for defense or foreign affairs? This obviously piqued my interest, as it presents a really fun hypothesis: If the Biden Administration can create and execute a plan to rebuild and rebound America’s cultural industries after COVID-19, they can cement their legacy in history forever.

Today, we’re going to learn a basic knowledge of the government agencies working around culture for the sake of learning about how all of this affects the cultural industries we all work in.

Ok, so let's start at the top.  Here are the major federal players in the production, preservation, and distribution of American culture:

The NEH

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an independent federal agency created in 1965. It is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States.

It’s probably best known for awarding grants. NEH grants typically go to cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, radio stations, and individual scholars. The grants are a pretty big damn deal, as they’ve funded:

  • Seven THOUSAND books, 16 of which have won Pulitzer Prizes.

  • The Civil War documentary by Ken Burns

  • The Library of America 

  • The United States Newspaper Project, which cataloged and microfilmed 63.3 million pages of historic newspapers, lasted from 1982 to 2011 (!!!)

  • Annual support for 56 states and territories to help support some 56,000 lectures, discussions, exhibitions, and other programs each year

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is directed by a chairman appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate for four years. Advising the chairman is the National Council on the Humanities, a board of 26 distinguished private citizens appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The National Council Members serve staggered six-year terms.

FUN FACT: Since its creation in 1965, the NEH has awarded more than $5.6 billion for humanities projects.

The NEA

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) offers support and funding for projects exhibiting “artistic excellence.” It was created by an act of the U.S. Congress in 1965 as an independent federal government agency.

It has the same setup as the NEH regarding both being appointed by the Prez and serving a four-year Senate term. They both offer grants; they just aim more for the…art stuff?

The NEA offers grants in 1) Grants for Arts Projects, 2) National Initiatives, and 3) Partnership Agreements. Grants for Arts Projects support exemplary projects in the discipline categories of artist communities, arts education, dance, design, folk and traditional arts, literature, local arts agencies, media arts, museums, music, musical theater, opera, presenting (including multidisciplinary art forms), theater, and visual arts. The NEA also grants individual fellowships in literature to creative writers and translators of exceptional talent in prose and poetry.

FUN FACT: From 1965 to 2008, the NEA gave out about 5 billion in grants and has a pretty fun “controversies” section on Wikipedia.

It also publishes how it makes the donuts and if you’ve ever wanted to see a chart that’s equally beautiful AND terrifying, here you go!

...ok! So that was…confusing!

Being a native Chicagoan, I unfortunately am used to navigating bureaucracy to do literally anything, so for all I know they all work hard every day to make culture important in this land of ours. Still confusing, though!

In the meantime, the biggest hurdle I believe to a cultural role serving any actual use in a Cabinet positions wouldn’t be political opposition, but the idea that culture isn’t “important”, when compared to other industries. In general, there’s a overall disdain in this country for anything that requires creative talent, likely because it’s rarer than finding someone to be a…scrum master. No disrespect to the scrum bums out there, but you know damn well that job didn’t exist when you were in high school. But you know what’s funny?

No kid wants to grow up to be middle management, and yet here you are.

I dare to dream. What if we thought differently about the value cultural types and the products of the cultural industries bring to the United States?


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Ugh, let’s get the cynical stuff out of the way now.

"WE SHOULDN’T FOCUS ON THESE THINGS BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT REALISTIC. NOT EVERYBODY HAS TALENT"

..And the current situation is working well for making sure the cream rises to the top?

"WE NEED TO FOCUS ON THINGS THAT GET US BACK ON TRACK"

...Yeah, like developing more American-maintained industry that could not only help to employ our unemployed, but could also help repurpose some of these outdated resources and facilities to actually produce a return on investment?

"ARTS SHOULDN'T BE THE GOVERNMENT'S JOB"

Wow, you really don't like the idea of change, huh?

Anyway, the NEA must hear this one a lot, because they have already laid out a rebuttal to this one on their site:

What is the role of the government when it comes to supporting the arts? The Arts Endowment’s role is to make sure all Americans have access to the arts no matter where they live.

  • All 435 Congressional Districts benefit from Arts Endowment grants.

  • Agency funding: • Creates an environment for the arts to bloom and thrive.

  • Acts as a catalyst to leverage resources for key investments in communities across the nation.

  • Stimulates giving; every dollar invested directly by the Arts Endowment is matched by up to $9 of additional non-federal or private investment.

  • Contributes to our economy, with the arts and culture sector accounting for $804.2 billion or 4.3 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2016 as noted by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

  • Adds millions of jobs to our workforce (more than two million full-time artists and five million arts-related jobs).

  • Plays a vital role in revitalizing communities, and supports our military service members through a military healing arts program.

Look, I've always believed there's two types of people in the world.

The types who will look at something and say, "Of course not, that's not how it works". Then there's the folks like me, who look at something and say, "Ok, so that's that. Now, what could it be?"

(Our type of folks are a lot of fun at parties, not so much in algebra class.)

Instead of looking at this and scoffing at the idea that some child would DARE want to be a Youtuber instead of a...public company non-founding CEO or a "Chief Impact Officer”, or whatever…

...what if we made it possible for people that have the ability to do these crafts to make a living doing it?

More to come on the topic, but a thought, in parting: We need to accept that with a changing world, there needs to be a reimagining of how this nation — and the state/regional/local governments that fall under these federal organizations — prioritize and fund the industries that make the single-greatest export we've ever created: Our culture.


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AROUND THE WORLD:

A bunch of links, curated by cultural industry, that will make you well-informed so that you can make better stuff.

Museums Are Safer Than Any Other Indoor Activity, COVID-19 Study Says (Hyperallergic)


A post shared by @mikecarson

Imagine what Mike Carson could create with a million-dollar budget, an airplane hanger and a month to be left alone???


NFT MANIA IS HERE, AND SO ARE THE SCAMMERS (The Verge)

Tried to tell ‘em!


How Many Black Executives are Running Hollywood? (The Ankler)

I might just link to The Ankler every week, man.


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Office Hours with Ernest Wilkins is written and curated by Ernest Wilkins in Chicago, Illinois. Happy Women’s History Month!