Whenever people see "government" or "politics" in article titles, they tend to either have or prepare for a reaction. With the election just around the corner, more than ever we are focused on what we would like to see improved in our country and on who we think is capable of implementing the change. The election season and discussions I have had with some very engaged arts advocacy friends of mine have caused me to wonder: When it comes to the arts, what is the role of government in the United States? Even more daunting than that question was the realization of my own ignorance - and I know I'm not alone.
The more I thought about this idea of government, the more I realized how clueless I am as to what local and national government actually do. I have perused the National Endowment for the Arts website and come across local public school restrictions on music education, but beyond that I have very little understanding of government's relationship to the arts. Did I miss the bus or does everyone feel this uninformed? I know more about the role of corporations and private sponsors in supporting musical organizations than I do anything else. Though I always assumed this had to do with government's minimal involvement, I know that my mentality was encouraged by my conservatory education. I can count the number of times that government involvement / funding was discussed on one hand, but I would have to be a millipede in order to put up how many times we talked about Neapolitan chords. If knowledge is power, what are we prepared to fight for? Comprehension of harmony is essential to every musician, but isn't a basic understanding of how government organizations impact our careers just as important?
It is just as crucial to recognize what is not working / impeding the growth of our organizations as it is to know how to maximize the resources that are already provided. This past year, I started an initiative that brings musicians into the Northwestern Memorial Hospital to play for cancer patients. I am excited to see the program growing, but I need some financial assistance to give the musicians the resources they need to keep up with the expansion. A woman who runs a similar program in Madison, Wisconsin emailed me and told me about grants she has applied for / received to help her group be a success. What great news - the government can help! But how is it that after six years of college music education, the only thing I know about grants is from a woman I have never met and from my own private research?
Does the current role government plays in the arts need to be included in music education? If you had to summarize the role of local or federal government in the arts today, what would you say? We can all agree that the arts are invaluable to our society (I love what Linda Ronstadt says in the video above), but coming to a consensus on where government fits into the equation is not as easy. Please comment if you have anything to share - I look forward to hearing your thoughts.