The Carter administration has established, in the White House, a staff committee on the arts.
The "cultural affairs group," as it is sometimes called, has no official functions, though it regularly reports to the President, to the Vice President, and to Joan Mondale, his wife.
The committee, which meets weekly amidst the ornate gilded mirrors and borrowed oil paintings in the Vice President's office, considers matters small and weighty - taxes paid by artists, art policies and personnel, congressional relations, and if the offices of bureaucrats should be painted bilious green.
The middle-level officials who regularly attend to [WORD ILLEGIBLE] with these questions include:
Peter Kyros, 28, deputy counsel to the Vice President. Kyros chairs the meetings.
Barry Jagoda, 33, whose duties, as special assistant to the President, include the production of Jimmy Carter's TV shows.
Rick Neustadt, 29, Jagoda's assistant.
Marilyn Haft, 33, associate director, office of public liaison. Haft works for Margarte "Midge" Costanza.
Mary Ann Tighe, 28, who used to work at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and is now arts adviser, office of the Vice President.
A reporter who attended yesterday morning's off-the-record meeting was told that he might publish his general impressions of the "cultural affairs group."
The committee is, well, groping. Its members, although well informed (they mention dollar figures, specific tax provisions, names), are trying to get a handle on the arts activities of the huge government they serve.They tend to tread lightly. They insist they are just staffers, not aspiring culture czars.
"Whoa, now wait a minute," said Jagoda a few weeks ago when asked if he was formulating government policy on the arts.
"We want the arts to flourish, sure. But you can't have a policy on the arts. That's like having a policy on the press."
One gets the impression that the committee serves two masters. Mrs. Mondale is one of them. President Carter is the other.
Mrs. Mondale, a former museum employee, seems to take the viewpoint of an arts professional, a cultural technician. The President, in contrast, seems an arts consumer. Unlike some of this predecessors who funded - but seemed to disdain - the arts. President Carter already has attended the opera, the theater, and museum exhibitions.
The committee seems to function both as sponge and filter. It is attempting to absorb vast quantities of data - who deals with the arts in the various government agencies? Who in the Congress? Where should one draw boundaries? Are those who make the Agriculture Department's instruction films, or those who select colors for government offices, involved with art? The group already has met informally with conductor Antal Dorati, Rep. John Brademas (D-Ind.), and others.
In its "filtering" capacity, the committee discusses possible appointments to government agencies, and it also screens requests and invitations from congressmen, artists, and cultural organizations.
"We're catalysts," said one committee member. "We'll meet again next week."