The Presidential Election and Cultural Policy

Once again we are in a US presidential election cycle, and once again the nonprofit arts community is stirring with desire for candidate commitments in support of the NEA and of legislation that serves the interests of artists and arts organizations.  But perhaps it’s time for something new; a bigger, bolder, and more-fundamental policy agenda?  In the years since Barack Obama was first elected, two cultural issues have inched toward the center of the US public policy stage.  First is the tragic loss of cultural heritage in the wake of natural disaster or war.  Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Japan have all witnessed the destruction of historic sites and monuments, and experienced the tragic disruption of less-tangible cultural assets critical to community and quality of life.  Cultural Heritage Policy requires that cultural experts, aid agencies, and the US military work together to preserve and protect, a process that will inevitably elevate the standing of culture as a component of quality of life.  Second, although the “hard power” of military intervention has recently been ascendant in US international engagements, it is increasingly clear that the transactional character of military and economic confrontation must be abetted by international contact that advances an understanding of values, motivations, objectives.  Culture and cultural exchange are at the heart of this kind of “soft power,” and like heritage protection and preservation, represent an an arena of action in which the nonprofit sector can advance cultural work as a part of the US policy agenda.  It’s fine to encourage political candidates to support the NEA, NEH, and IMLS, but let’s take the opportunity of this presidential cycle to think bigger, ask for more.

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Bill Ivey
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