The clues so far to President elect Jimmy Carter's perspective on the arts: He was a buff of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and likes Bob Dylan's words and music; he first slashed the arts budget as George's governor and then restored the cuts, with interest, in his last year in office; he can tartly cut off a movie star aggressively pushing High Culture, and he fondly remembers the visit of a touring symphony orchestra to his rural Georgia county.
But whatever Carter's personal style or interest, the real signals on the new White House arts policy will come with decisions on budget, reorganization, and appointments. Whether Carter has country fiddlers or concertmeisters for White House enterainments is just window dressing when it comes down to what really happens to the arts and humanities under his administration.
At the moment, the Carter transition team's special "arts and humanities cluster" seems an indication that the new administration is systematically considering the role of the arts.
For the first time, a President-elect will get recommendations from policy advisers giving special attention to cultural affairs, suggesting that culture is being studied as a national issue along with the economy, welfare, defense, and jobs.
Louise Wiener, who is drawing up the backgrounder on arts policy for the Carter transition team, is wary of tipping off any recommendations before they reach the White House.
"We are ferreting out the issues and the options," she emphasizes. "Our job is not to set policy or make appointments."
Wiener, 36, comes out of Carter's Atlanta background. She lived there for five years before her family moved to Washington a year ago when her husband became head of the department of psychiatry at Children's Hospital.
She disclaims any personal bid for a job in the Carter administration, although she has been namedropped as a possible selection to head the National Endowment for the Arts.
"I have four children - 4, 6, 8, and 10. They are all boys, so that makes eight children, she said, deflecting the question prettily.
But clear signals on the tack of Carter's White House arts policy will come soon with decisions on such questions as: Budget
In a campaign statement on the arts, Carter the candidate pledged "increased resources."
"They tell me the economy is very tight," Wiener is quick to point out. "Every program is going to have to justify itself not only for what it does but on the list of national priorities."
The government's direct funding in the field is funneled through two sister agencies, the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanitites, each with a budget of $87 million this fiscal year.
Carter also has embraced the "challenge grant" program, which puts up $1 of federal money for each $3 raised by cultural institutions. And he has talked about a possible antirecession jobs program for unemployed artists and writers with overtones of the WPA Theater and Writers Projects under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Wiener will say only that this is a "possibility to be looked at." Reorganization
Carter, in his campaign statement, promised to respect the autonomy of the arts. That seems to have quieted fears that the Reorganization Man in the White House might wipe out the endowments and consolidate the agencies in some larger bureau like an education department.
"That is way down the road" is the way Wiener answer a question on the old idea of creating a cabinetlevel post for a Secretary of Cultural Affairs.
It's not something being pushed by the arts constituency, which generally is satisfied with the two endowments and see a Secretary of Culture as only another bureaucratic title.
A more likely possibility would be the merger of the two endownments under one head, since there has been an overlapping of projects. For instance, the arts endowment has been sponsoring projects in the schools and the humanities endowment's biggest hit has been a TV show, "The Adams Chronicles."
Carter has plenty of challenge for consolidation in government culture: There are now more than 250 programs spread over 47 commissions, agencies, departments, and committees. Appointments
One immediate job opening is that as head of the National Endowment for Humanities to succeed Ronald S. Berman. His reappointment to a four-year term was blocked last year by Democratic committeemen.
Nancy Hanks, head of the arts endowment, is on her second four-year term, which runs until mid-October. She flatly denies that she may step down earlier.
"We have a lot of important things to carry on," she says. "Whatever happens, I have no idea of not continuing to work for the encouragement of the arts." She sounds very much like an involved person who loves her work and wouldn't mind a third term. But Hanks says it is too early to think - or talk - about that subject.
One key appointment for Carter will be his White House staffer with the responsibility for cultural affairs. Some arts spokesmen don't think it's that important to have someone with the title of White House special consultant on the arts.
"It's really better to have a White House domestic staffer who takes on arts advocacy along with other assignments. Then the arts can't be pushed aside as a frill," one arts leader pointed out.
Joan Mondale, wife of Vice Presidentelect Walter Mondale, seems likely to have a voice as an arts advocate in the Carter administration. A week after her husband's nomination, she promised that the arts would receive her special concern if her husband was elected.
Mrs. Mondale, who has been a docent at the National Gallery of Art for nearly 10 years, is author of "Politics in Art." This, it turns out, is not a primer on government and culture, but a book for juveniles with comments on the works of artists who have used their talent to make social and political commentary.
At first, there was some disquietide in the arts community over direction of the Carter administration arts policy. But his statement during the campaign, little noticed at the time, seems to have diffused most fears.
"Frankly, I don't find anyone too upset since that statement," reports Nancy Bush, coordinator of the National Advocated for the Arts and information officer of the Associated Councils of the Arts.
"One thing is clear. He (Carter) is more populist in his approach to the arts. When he talks about culture, it is not black-tie receptions but how it affects the lives of people."
During the campaign, for example, populist candidate Jimmy Carter found himself among Hollywood's beautiful film people at a party thrown by Warren Beatty.
Asked what he thought about tax financing of a national theater and opera, Carter observed that he hadn't been asked that question before.
"You've never met people at this level before," said actor Tony Randall, a zealous proselytizer for arts support.
"That's how I won the nomination," Carter snapped back.
Carter's performance as governor of Georgia - first slashing the arts budget for three years and then more than restoring the cuts in his last year in office - is explained by his supporters as proof that the President-elect listens to advocates who argue their cause persuasively.
"I think it shows that when the arts community made its case, Gov. Carter listened," Wiener says.
When he came to the governor's office, Carter abolished the Georgia Arts Commission as an independent agency and supplanted it with an advisory committee in the Office of Planning and Budget. He inherited a $128,000 arts budget from Lester Maddox in 1971 and cut it to $99,000 in 1972, $71,000 in 1973, and $53,000 in 1974.
Then, in a turnabout in late fiscal 1974, he transferred $130,000 from the Governor's discretionary funds to raise the figure to a more respectable $183,000.
Carter's neo-populist approach to the arts did raise some concern at first that he might neglect cultural insitutions that are the qualitysetters and energizers of the arts. But the President-elect, in his statement on the arts, made a clear commitment of support for such "national treasures" as the great opera companies, museums, theaters, dance companies and symphony orchestras.
And in that statement, President-elect Carter made moving personal testimony to his belief in the arts. This is the way that he recalled the visit of the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra to his rural Georgia county:
"It was the first time that a symphony orchestra had ever played in the area. Everybody from county merchants to farmers went, listened, and enjoyed. The orchestra visit was the main topic of conversation for weeks afterward. People felt that something beautiful and full of meaning had touched their lives."