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“Role for Culture in Economic Recovery:” New York Times

26 January, 2009

Today’s New York Times reports that “Arts Leaders Urge Role for Culture in Economic Recovery”. “Culture” here means the arts, and what the “leaders” urge is state funding for public art projects, ranging from more fine art commissions built into public construction and transportation projects to a European-style government-level secretary of culture.

Because in the past there has been much less of this in the US, discussions of “culture” have centred less on the arts and more on education and the media, which — along with museums — is where the “culture wars” largely played out (of course, they did in the National Endowment for the Arts as well, but that wasn’t so significant and visible to a broad public). If the wishes reported in the article materialise, then the American state will be confronted with the question of how to shape public representations of culture in the arts more strongly than before, and similarly to the way that, say, Britain’s Arts Council has. Considering the dominance of the “heritage format” (in Andrew Shryock’s term) in the (self-)representations of American society, there is a risk that ethnically labelled “cultures” will proliferate in this imagery.  This was, for a while, the case in Britain, where, say, certain artists tended to be selected qua British-Chinese or British-Caribbean artists, and expected to represent their “constituencies.” On the other hand, the fact that Obama’s own person, to an extent, defies the “heritage format” raises hope that this will not be the case.

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