Monday, November 1, 2010

Tuesday Talks with the Presidents Committee on Arts and Humanities

Justine Roberts, Principal

I thought it was really in keeping with the way this administration uses social media to hold an on-line chat with the Presidents Committee on Arts and Humanities.  This was presented as one of the Tuesday Talks which are an opportunity for citizens to have access to policy makers from different parts of the government, ask them questions, and get substantive answers in a mediated conversation. Its not a debate, and there is no mechanism to follow up or clarify your question if you aren’t getting a pointed answer.  But its not unlike a talk radio show where there is a host to keep things moving and a guest with subject expertise.  There are three ways to particpate in these Tuesday Talks: you can go to to jump in, through Facebook in advance or also live.

This particular Tuesday Talk was part of National Arts and Humanities Month (October) and took place on October 19, 2010.

The PCAH is an independent group appointed by President.  It was founded 1982 under Reagan and has 35 members including working artists.  Its role is to work at the national level on advocacy, programs, issues, opportunities and sustainability related to the arts and humanities.  There are three government agencies that are considered partners of the PCAH: NEA, NEH and IMLS.  But PCAH works with other government departments as well, and with private partners too.  As a committee made up of government and presidential appointees, they bridge public and private and work with both – bringing together groups that aren’t always partners to work on the question of strengthening investment in the cultural life of the USA.  Over the years the PCAH has conducted research and policy analysis, catalyzed programs, and built international relationships.

Each PCAH has its own character and emphasis.  Past committees have focused more on the economy – Preserve America for example was about preserving our historic architecture and civic spaces for tourism and as a basis for economic redevelopment.  This particular group is very concerned with arts education and sees advocacy - making the case - as a central piece of how they can move the needle on participation.  Chuck Close, the first ever visual artist to serve on the PCAH, says they want to remind "educational institutions of the importance of arts education both in and of themselves, and integrated into the rest of the curriculum."  

These are the areas this committee seems to care most about:
  • Make the case
  • A call to action
  • Identify models and opportunities to replicate them 
  • Work with other government departments - advocate for the arts and how the role they play
  • Give awards to recognize success and catalyze investment

This all adds up to trying to build a movement.  No small thing.

I liked the chat format. And was really pleased to hear Chuck Close speak - what an inspiring advocate he is!  

There was about an hour total and time for 9 questions.  One person read questions aloud and moved the conversation along.  She selected questions about the creative economy, arts education, the influence of the PCAH on policy discussions, role models, making the case, and how to get involved.  

What didn’t come up was international cooperation and the importance of arts/culture embasador and cultural exchange.  The reason that is surprising is because it is part of the mandate of the group and in the past few years they have worked on international projects notably in Haiti and China.

The whole discussion was worthwhile (click to watch) but I wanted to summarize some of what I thought of as the key points the Committee made.  

1. Make the Case.  The committee acknowledged that there is work to be done on making the case for how the arts contribute to formal education, and about how the arts and artists contribute to economic revitalization.  Committee members repeatedly talked about how important it is to articulate the difference that artists and arts organizations make:
  • To Economics and urban renewal by moving into abandoned neighborhoods like the NJ Performing Arts Center in Newark which is planned as an anchor for that city's revitalization.  
  • To Education by building capacity, enthusiasm, ongoing engagement, and creativity.  They help many different kinds of learners stay in school and support their success through self-esteem and increasing their passion to learn.  They help teachers to feel they have a real stake in educating their students and give teachers permission to explore other ways to get information across. 

2. Build on Success.  They are working to identify existing operating programs that can serve as models to roll out more widely. Programs like Studio in the School are great for individual artists but they also benefit the education system and whole communities.  

3. Artists themselves are a resource.  The committee has also been working on the idea of an artists corps which is a group of working artists that can participate in projects nationally.  Chuck Close has an idea for a “put and artist to work” model like WPA - so increasing direct employment opportunities AND having an impact on schools at the same time.  At the same time, the NEA is developing a program called Our Town which will pilot programs that engage artists.  Our Town grows out of Art Works which is about showing that art does work! In education, community development, economics etc.  

4. This is a non-partisan conversation.  The Committee was created under Reagan and historically has been broadly supported.  They are involved in advocating for the arts inside government - with the DOE about education reform and the role of arts in education and the Domestic Policy Council e.g.  But their goal is to stress that the arts are good for society in general but also in an important local way irrespective of politics of a community.  Art and culture are an important part of society; are our national identity. 

5. Partner, Partner, Partner.  The arts are important to workforce development.  They can teach people how to pose a question, and identify a problem, not just find the answer.  A 2010 study of CEOs lists creativity as a critical skill.  There is a need to have corporate partners who recognize the need for a prepared workforce – one that understands how to think critically, pose questions, collaborate, etc. 

6. Advocacy starts at home.  If you want to get involved look for a local initiative to help out with, or opportunity to teach.  Talk to the PTA and work on showing the local chapter what difference the arts are  making in their community schools.  

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