In his Op-Ed piece Monday in the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote, “A rational political system would long since have created a 21st-century version of the Works Progress Administration — we’d be putting the unemployed to work doing what needs to be done, repairing and improving our fraying infrastructure.” This put me in mind of Arlene Goldbard’s proposal for a “New WPA for Artists,” which she outlined in two articles on the (unfortunately now defunct) Community Arts Network. She wrote, “I hope that in the Obama administration we will finally be able to write the democratic national cultural policy that has been needed for decades: not just jobs and community development, but how to embody the values of creativity, pluralism, participation and equity that animate a culture of democracy.”
The NEA, as readers of this blog probably know, has launched a new “Art Works” campaign under Rocco Landesman’s leadership. Unfortunately, the program doesn’t go as far as a WPA for artists, nor could it given the structure of the agency. Yet, the NEA’s strategic plan cites as its first goal, “The creation of art that meets the highest standard of excellence.” They advance only one outcome metric: “The portfolio of American art is expanded.” To expand the portfolio of American art, we need more artists working to create new, and hopefully innovative, art. As many artists and arts organizations across the country await the release of the new NEA guidelines for funding of arts project next week, I am left wondering if there will be the substantive changes needed to support the creation of new innovative work, by artists who, like scientists, are actually paid to experiment. For that to happen, we would need Krugman and Goldbard’s level of rationality…. <sigh>.