Art Review

Art in the Cabinet

For those of us whose hearts belong to the arts, it was discouraging to see Republican opponents of the economic stimulus package — signed into law by President Barack Obama last week in Denver — use the paltry $50 million increase in the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts as a major talking point to bash the bill.

The idea spouted by said Republicans was that money given to the arts wouldn't stimulate the economy or create jobs. Implicit in this conclusion is the absurd belief that people in the arts don't work or play a role in the economy. They called the NEA money "pork," but I'd call their conclusion "hogwash." Luckily, the money for the NEA survived and is part of the package as passed by Congress.

How different things were the last time we were in this kind of trouble, during the Great Depression. Then, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal threw plenty of dough to the arts, and the results were remarkable. Don't believe me? I've got three words for you: Red Rocks Amphitheater (pictured). That cultural treasure was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, just one of many agencies used by the New Deal that viewed culture as part of the solution to economic woes.

On the opposite side of the argument are those who would like to see more resources directed at culture. In fact, musician and producer Quincy Jones said that he plans to urge Obama to establish a cabinet-level post of Secretary of the Arts.

This led fellow musician Jaime Austria to start an online petition to endorse the idea, at; he has since garnered over 200,000 signatures. The concept of a Secretary of the Arts might sound novel until you notice that nearly all of the countries in Europe have a Minister of Culture. It's unlikely that Obama will make this kind of bold move, but since he's proven he doesn't need bipartisan support to get things done, there's no reason why he shouldn't.

Breaking news: Adam Lerner will take over as the head of MCA Denver. For more, log on to

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia