While the headlines have been filled with news of the $700 billion congressional bailout, GOP presidential candidate John McCain quietly issued this week a statement that took national arts advocates by surprise.
With just 33 days to go before the general election, McCain released to the media his long-anticipated arts platform, a document a mere four sentences long.
The brevity of the statement stands in stark contrast to the more detailed and formal policy statement Sen. Barack Obama issued nearly a year ago.
According to the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, the organization that first requested the policy statements from both candidates, artists and art-related nonprofits generate about $166.2 billion in revenue per year and $12.6 billion in annual taxes. That makes those employed or interested in the creative economy a possibly powerful voting bloc with which which to reckon. Robert Lynch, CEO and president of the Washington-based AAF, says that it was on the behalf of that constituency that his organization requested candidates to release their arts platforms as far back as the primary season.
Early responders included Republican Mike Huckabee, Democratic hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, John Edwards and Barack Obama, the latter of whom assembled a 33-person committee to address the issue.
The Obama committee, comprising leaders in business, education, and the arts issued, "the most comprehensive platform on the arts" Lynch has ever seen.
The Obama document makes campaign promises that include: creation of a national artist corps; increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts; a provision to extend health care to artists; and support for legislation safe-guarding artists' tax interests.
Conversely, McCain's terse statement stays largely on predictable point, Lynch says, but still goes a long way to move along the debate about the nation's arts.
"It's language where there wasn't language before," Lynch said of the statement.
The first line of McCain's statement, Lynch says, refers to McCain's belief that "arts education can play a vital role" in "fostering creativity and expression." The document then moves into a traditionally conservative policy statement, Lynch says, in which McCain leaves decisions about funding for the arts to local entities, where, the statement says, "local priorities allow."
Narric Rome, the AAF's director of federal affairs, says that his organization would have preferred the McCain statement to contain the suggestion that the federal government encourage local funding of the arts, given that national No Child Left Behind legislation has led to cuts in local programs for the arts.
But, says his boss Lynch, to have any information in writing from McCain" is a start."
The AAF celebrates McCain's single paragraph as better-late-than-never.
"I wouldn't call it an October surprise," said Rome, but after a year and a half pursuit, "it's great to have it in hand."
Lynch says that the statement marks an important moment for the AAF and those whose interests it represents.
The real victory here, Lynch says, is that now both presidential candidates have their views on the arts in full view of the voting public.
The arts are now "at the table," Lynch says. And the addition of new information from the McCain campaign can only further empower voters as they head to the polls in November.
McCain's arts statement:
"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."
Obama platform: (see http://www.mybarackobama.com)
"Reinvest in Arts Education: To remain competitive in the global economy, America needs to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made this country great. To do so, we must nourish our children's creative skills. In addition to giving our children the science and math skills they need to compete in the new global context, we should also encourage the ability to think creatively that comes from a meaningful arts education. Unfortunately, many school districts are cutting instructional time for art and music education. Barack Obama believes that the arts should be a central part of effective teaching and learning.
The Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts recently said "The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society." To support greater arts education, Obama will:
---Expand Public/Private Partnerships Between Schools and Arts Organizations: Barack Obama will increase resources for the U.S. Department of Education's Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Grants, which develop public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations. Obama will also engage the foundation and corporate community to increase support for public/private partnerships.
----Create an Artist Corps: Barack Obama supports the creation of an "Artists Corps" of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities. Studies in Chicago have demonstrated that test scores improved faster for students enrolled in low-income schools that link arts across the curriculum than scores for students in schools lacking such programs.
----Publicly Champion the Importance of Arts Education: As president, Barack Obama will use the bully pulpit and the example he will set in the White House to promote the importance of arts and arts education in America. Not only is arts education indispensable for success in a rapidly changing, high skill, information economy, but studies show that arts education raises test scores in other subject areas as well.
----Support Increased Funding for the NEA: Over the last 15 years, government funding for the National Endowment for the Arts has been slashed from $175 million annually in 1992 to $125 million today. Barack Obama supports increased funding for the NEA, the support of which enriches schools and neighborhoods all across the nation and helps to promote the economic development of countless communities.
----Promote Cultural Diplomacy: 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.
Attract Foreign Talent: The flipside to promoting American arts and culture abroad is welcoming members of the foreign arts community to America. Opening America's doors to students and professional artists provides the kind of two-way cultural understanding that can break down the barriers that feed hatred and fear. As America tightened visa restrictions after 9/11, the world's most talented students and artists, who used to come here, went elsewhere. Barack Obama will streamline the visa process to return America to its rightful place as the world's top destination for artists and art students.
Provide Health Care to Artists: Finding affordable health coverage has often been one of the most vexing obstacles for artists and those in the creative community. Since many artists work independently or have non-traditional employment relationships, employer-based coverage is unavailable and individual policies are financially out of reach. Barack Obama's plan will provide all Americans with quality, affordable health care. His plan includes the creation of a new public program that will allow individuals and small businesses to buy affordable health care similar to that available to federal employees. His plan also creates a National Health Insurance Exchange to reform the private insurance market and allow Americans to enroll in participating private plans, which would have to provide comprehensive benefits, issue every applicant a policy, and charge fair and stable premiums. For those who still cannot afford coverage, the government will provide a subsidy. His health plan will lower costs for the typical American family by up to $2,500 per year.
Ensure Tax Fairness for Artists: Barack Obama supports the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The Act amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow artists to deduct the fair market value of their work, rather than just the costs of the materials, when they make charitable contributions.