As he nears the end of his first year in office, Barack Obama can count the largest infusion of cultural funding in decades as one of his signal achievements, the Associated Press reports. And though arts advocates say it is still less than what is needed, they are hopeful the president will manage to transform arts policy, funding, and education in the United States for years to come.
Since his inauguration, Obama has hosted a variety of musical performances and workshops at the White House featuring classical, jazz, Latin, and country music. At the same time, the administration has secured $100 million in new funding for the arts, including a one-time $50 million infusion from the economic stimulus package to preserve arts-related jobs around the country.
While arts supporters had hoped for a greater financial commitment from the administration, the increases are viewed as significant and symbolic of the president's support. At the National Endowment for the Arts, chairman Rocco Landesman, a former Broadway producer, has said he would like to resume making grants to individual artists — a practice that was ended during the culture wars of the 1990s. But with the NEA budget well below its 1992 high-water mark of $176 million, the agency is likely to hold off for the time being.
In pressing for a restoration of funding, Americans for the Arts, a leading advocacy organization, has emphasized the economic impact of the arts and culture sector, which today employs nearly six million people at a hundred thousand nonprofit art groups — up from just seven thousand half a century ago. Federal funding helped fuel that growth, said AfA president and CEO Robert Lynch, by leveraging additional public and private support for the arts. "It's been so successful over the past fifty years," said Lynch. "It's good business sense for there to be a bigger investment."