OUR RIGHT TO THE ARTS
The United States has strong precedents for public support to fulfill our right to the arts. During the New Deal, the WPA’s Federal Art Project organized creative, educational, research, and service projects to provide artists with work and income. The Federal Art Project employed 90 percent of unemployed artists to create artwork and document oral histories, music, and folkways. During its eight years of existence, the project established 100’s of community art centers and galleries reaching millions and employed thousands of artists to create hundreds of thousands of original works, including public murals and posters.
All people, regardless of their race, gender, or income should have equal opportunities to access and participate in cultural life, including artistic expression. Arts and culture are fundamental elements of social life, and their impact extends throughout the public realm. The federal government should recognize and celebrate cultural diversity and ensure that arts and culture are available to all people in the United States. Special programmes should be designed to create inclusive access to groups who have historically been excluded or marginalized from receiving support and resources.
Artists, arts activists, cultural workers, and the arts themselves make irreplaceable contributions to society. The federal job guarantee should include public employment of artists and cultural workers, providing good jobs at fair wages in recognition of their essential contributions to the nation. Federal support can fund arts teachers, architects, visual artists, composers, choreographers, writers, public art work commissions, art therapy for the ill, community arts engagement, museum work, and performances of theater, dance, music, film, video, and more.
The right to access and participate in arts and culture is a fundamental human right, recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, and to which the United States is a signatory. We can ensure this right is protected and promoted by operating galleries and museums accessible to all localities and commissioning art in every public building and outdoor space. Citizens not only are entitled to equitable access to art, but should be guaranteed the opportunity to participate in its creation and help to produce work that reflects the diversity of backgrounds and experiences of Americans. Participatory art initiatives can play an important role in community development at the city, county, state, and national level and ensure that all voices are heard and represented in the cultural fabric of the nation.
As an essential part of a healthy society and a major contributor to economic vitality, the arts should be taught as a core subject in all schools and available at every level. This training should reflect the growing importance of technology and information access in the creative economy. The arts curricula offered to students should make familiar the creative productions of the many peoples of the world, not only those voices enshrined in the standard Western canon. Artists of color, women, self-taught artists, creators from outside of Europe and America, and other artists who have traditionally been excluded from official accounts of art history, should be recognized and celebrated as a part of an emancipated art curriculum. The same process should be initiated for museum collections and narratives, as well as for public monuments and other art in the public domain.
Artists must not fear the threat of censorship. Art cannot survive in society- grow, evolve, flourish- if artistic expression is stifled by the possibility of suppression. Art often serves to push boundaries and challenge social and political assumptions: in these qualities lies its power, and they must be protected at all cost. Measures prohibiting forms of artistic expression- including but not limited to that found in writing, music, material arts, and performance- must be overturned. The federal government must not use public investment in the arts as a means to solicit propaganda or starve certain artistic tendencies.
For artists to create with autonomy and distribute their works to the public, the commercial interests of the market must not be allowed to have a stranglehold on artistic production. Providing public support for independent artists allows them to create without having to comply with contemporary fashions or the whims of rich patrons and art investors.
For too long, corporate funding and private philanthropy have governed the art world: artificially inflating the prices of art works, pushing most artists, who aren’t promoted by private investors, to the margins, and perverting art into an “investment” for the sake of accruing value for the elite few who trade and hoard it. Public support must break the hold of these corrupting influences.