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Artists Urge Obama to Name a Secretary of Culture

Quincy Jones's call for Obama to establish a secretary of culture has inspired a petition with 76,000 signers.
Quincy Jones's call for Obama to establish a secretary of culture has inspired a petition with 76,000 signers. (By Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- Associated Press)

Jones said his idea is not a criticism of any of the arts leaders in Washington. "They are doing a fantastic job," he said.

Kaiser argues that the crumbling economy, as well as the advent of a new administration, has added some urgency to coordinating all these efforts. "Right now, we have an ecology of the arts that is very scary. We need a proactive person, or agency, that is going to talk to foundations, the state agencies, the organizations about this situation. Right now, we are leaving the arts organizations to themselves," he said.

But, Kaiser said: "I am not optimistic that Congress would create another department. It is expensive, it is another bureaucracy -- but we need coordination."

And Jones admitted that Obama "is facing too many crises. I am not an unrealistic person. He has got his hands full."

During the campaign, Obama and Biden issued a platform on the arts. It called for reinvestment in arts education and said "arts should be a central part of effective teaching and learning." It proposed creation of an "artists corps," taking young artists to low-income schools and their neighborhoods." Obama said he would increase funding for the NEA and the Education Department arts grants, beef up cultural diplomacy programs and ensure artists would have access to health care and fair tax deductions.

The platform advocated more exchange of American and foreign artists. Looking back to the era of Cold War arts ambassadors, when Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie traveled around the world for the government, the platform said, "Artists can be utilized again to help us win the war of ideas against Islamic extremism."

The leader of the arts and humanities review team of the Obama-Biden transition office, William Ivey, declined to discuss the idea.

Artists of every genre were part of the new team's campaign, and are highly visible additions to the inaugural festivities. In a recent interview on "Meet the Press," Obama, a best-selling author who has Jay-Z on his iPod, said that his White House would have room for "jazz musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings."

But Ivey, a former chairman of the arts endowment, wrote last year that the cultural environment had been neglected and needed to be fixed. "If the task requires consideration of a new government agency -- a Cabinet-level department of cultural affairs -- so be it," said Ivey.

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