Or take George Washington’s word: ‘Arts and sciences [are] essential to the prosperity of the state’
Whether one supports a Cabinet-level culture secretary, it is not accurate to claim, as Jeff Jacoby does, that “for most of American history, that wall of separation between art and state was intact” until FDR and the Works Progress Administration (“No ministry of culture, please, we’re American,” Ideas, July 25). There was never a wall of separation.
Congress chartered a musical ensemble in 1798, the Marine Band, and purchased works of art by the Revolutionary War veteran John Trumbull to adorn the new Capitol building in Washington. The District of Columbia itself was designed to be a grand work of art, with planned ceremonial spaces and monuments. Other congressional measures to invest in American culture included the creation of the Library of Congress and the funding of the Smithsonian Institution.
The Founders and subsequent generations of American leaders have often agreed with George Washington, who noted, upon his acceptance into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1781, “The arts and sciences, essential to the prosperity of the state and to the ornament and happiness of human life, have a primary claim to the encouragement of every lover of his country and mankind.”
Vice president for academic affairs
Industry asks not for looming government but for respect and support
Regarding Jeff Jacoby’s column about the call for a federal Department of Arts and Culture: When the argument against such a Cabinet-level department is that the National Endowment for the Arts has a (paltry) budget of $167.5 million to support an industry that accounts for 4.5 percent of the gross domestic product, you’re on the wrong track. That’s a greater portion of GDP than transportation, which is a Cabinet position. As for fashion and apparel being big too, those industries have Cabinet-level support: the Department of Commerce.
Also, no one is asking for more of a government role in the arts. They’re looking for respect and support — as a labor force, an economic driver, and the signature of a great civilization.
NEA’s budget is not enough to fulfill its goals
Jeff Jacoby’s attempt to separate culture from state would be laughable were it not so insidious. Jacoby melded arts and religion into one human fantasy in arguing against the US government’s subsidizing arts.
In America, his dreaded “ministry of culture” is called the National Endowment for the Arts, “an independent federal agency that funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities.” Unfortunately, the NEA’s budget is woefully inadequate to fulfill its goals, which is why so many artists ask President Biden to elevate American arts to a more prominent status. Whatever name this elevation may assume, millions of Americans would be grateful.
The writer is an artist.