As covered in our Festival News, Christopher Beam from Slate magazine provided a quick primer on a few of the significant cultural ministers and the role the position plays in governments around the world.
The minister of (or sometimes more actively “for”) culture is the government’s point person in charge of seeding, developing, integrating, and exporting a nation’s cultural work. Some governments view the position more widely, incorporating the portfolios of heritage, media, sport, and/or tourism. Others focus the position solely on the arts, still embracing everything from the largest national museums to the smallest fringe festivals.
No matter how broadly or narrowly the position is defined, one thing is clear: culture matters to the government. Of course, there is a kind of Kafkaesque bureaucratic shadow lurking here. What Kafka imagined has too often taken place: a totalitarian silencing of culture. However, there are many examples of bureaucracies shining genuine light on a nation’s diverse culture and artists.
Since the US government’s current theme (some would say obsession) is exporting democracy, why not import this position from so many other democracies around the world?
Currently the US has the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, led by individuals nominated by a president’s administration. Both of these bureaucracies are committee driven and, as with all committees, go out of their way to avoid any smell, taste, or touch of controversy. Is that any way to inspire the freedom of expression, thought, and creativity?
Wouldn’t it be interesting to evaluate presidential candidates based on their cultural interests and policies? What if the kind of culture that would be supported during their administration became part of the election conversation and debate? Don’t you think the kinds of culture they would want to be funded, developed, and exported provide clear insights into their real program and possibilities?
At the very least, a cultural minister would elevate the significance of culture in the US government’s policies. At best, the position would place the bureaucracy of art funding on the same level of controversy, public scrutiny, and impact as the other cabinet positions.
At a time when newspapers are cutting back on their cultural coverage, while the private sector is earning more from culture than ever before, surely there is a place for leaders to lead.
Play a simple game: ask yourself what the world of arts would be like if Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton or Bush had the power and the resources to put their direct stamp on US culture.
No doubt the debate, the passions, and the protests — in other words, culture — would be center stage.
- Bill Reichblum