When a president calls a meeting of the Cabinet, most vital sectors of the economy — from soybean farmers to auto manufacturers — have an appointed government representative in the room, a secretary of agriculture or transportation, to speak for them.
You know what doesn’t get a seat at the table, and never has? The arts. And in this crisis moment, when a pandemic threatens ruination for museums, theaters, concert halls, opera houses, dance studios, cineplexes and amusement parks — and the 5.1 million arts workers who staff them — the time has come to rectify this glaring oversight.
Now, more than ever, we need a secretary of arts and culture.
As President-elect Joe Biden rolls out his circle of close advisers, the notion is gaining momentum among leaders and advocates of nonprofit groups and for-profit companies: that someone should be named to coordinate arts funding, unite assorted agencies and underline the value of arts and entertainment to the nation’s financial, social and psychological well-being.
A national advocate. An Anthony Fauci — but at the Cabinet level — for the arts.
The United Kingdom has a culture secretary. Canada calls the job minister of Canadian heritage. France employs a culture minister; South Africa, a minister of arts and culture; Vietnam, a minister of culture, sports and tourism; Australia, a minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts. More than 50 nations designate an official in the top ranks of government whose portfolio includes nurturing artistic endeavors. In Germany, for instance, the minister of state for culture, Monika Grütters, has been an ardent proponent of aid to artists during the covid-19 crisis — a backing that helped secure a staggering $54 billion in aid for those in cultural, media and artistic pursuits. The United States, by contrast, operates the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities as shoestring-level grant-makers, each with a budget of $162.5 million, which is smaller than that of the city of Enid, Okla.