It might seem hard to imagine at this juncture, but eventually 2020 will end. The election will be over, the fires in California will be extinguished, the pandemic will recede, and Los Angeles will go back to ignoring sports. Time, as is its nature, will pass.
Which is why, in these closing days before the next presidential election, we need to think about which candidate serves as the best option to further the country’s interests and investment in both arts creation and education, the better to stoke the fires of American creativity that have historically burned so brightly.
And listen, if this is the first thought you’ve given to the cultural implications of the upcoming election, I can’t blame you. It hasn’t served as a plank of either candidates’ platform, likely because in the garbage cyclone of the last 10 months, talking about funding for the arts might seem a bit out-of-touch — like picking out new wallpaper while your house burns down.
Without specific plans from either campaign — in 2008, Barack Obama had a thoroughly outlined platform to support the arts, including increased funding for the National Endowment of the Arts, as well as health care and tax fairness for artists — the public’s best bet for surmising about the future comes from examining the past and trusting the judgement of those who have the most to lose in this argument: Artists themselves.
As one might expect, many artists are leaning blue heading into next week. In early October, a coalition of more than 100 contemporary artists hosted an online-only sale in order to raise funds for the Biden Victory Fund, in a move to support Democrats heading into Election Day.
“This fundraising effort has been organized in partnership with national and global art communities, including artists, gallerists, art collectors, and industry professionals who share Biden’s vision for America and have helped galvanize widespread support and participation,” read a statement from the Artists for Biden website.
It was an initiative spearheaded by the Biden campaign itself, who this summer sought out New York gallerist David Zwirner with the idea to launch an online art fundraiser.
In a statement made to Hyperallergic, a campaign spokesperson for Biden said of the candidate, “Throughout his career Vice President Biden has been a strong supporter of the arts. Vice President Biden knows investing in the arts is critical for job creation, and he is committed to promoting and supporting the arts in schools as well as the diversity and richness of ideas that keep the artworld alive.”
Artists are not necessarily misguided in their fear over what another four years of the Trump Administration could do to their livelihood. Say what you will about the man’s capacity for fidelity, the president is single-mindedly devoted to stripping cultural agencies of their federal funding, presenting budgets for four consecutive years that would eliminate both the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities.
Specifically, Trump’s 2021 budget submitted in February requested $30 million and $33.4 million to shutter the NEA and NEH completely, as well as money to shut down the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in addition to discontinuing arts-education programs in the Education Department budget.
None of the closures survived Congress, where the importance of the arts remains one of the few areas that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can agree on, with the group actually increasing the budget for NEA and NEH each year — if only they were as united on human rights as they are on muppet rights.
It was also on President Trump’s watch that the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities was disbanded, after a mass resignation of private committee members in the wake of the commander in chief’s response to right-wing violence in Charlottesville, VA in August 2017. After the action, the administration released a statement saying that the president had already decided not renew the committee anyway, the ultimate, “You can’t quit because you’re fired” move.
But it’s not like things are perfect on Biden’s end, either. The campaign apparently has a Biden Arts Policy Committee which has four co-chairs including producer Megan Beyer, designer Henry Muñoz, founder of the American Film Institute George Stevens Jr., and actor and producer Alfre Woodard, but solid proof of its existence or mission remains unclear.
Yet, we’re in a situation where when it comes right down to it, being vague is worlds better than actively working against cultural development. If you view the election framed entirely by which candidate aligns closer to your own values and livelihood, it comes down to a choice between a person who may not be prioritizing the mission and remains unclear about future plans and a person who actively took time out of his schedule, in the nascent days of a looming pandemic, and tried to shut down PBS.
What matters right now is America’s recovery from a tumultuous period. For some that means 10 months, for others it means four years, for many it means a lifetime. But this, too, shall pass. And when we begin to clean up, to bury our dead, to mourn, we will need art to help guide us through. We’ll need it to reflect our pain back to us and allow us to feel empathy, not just for each other, but for ourselves.
If artistic expression, creation, and education matters to you, vote for someone who shares those values, not for someone willing to put them in the ground for good.