America cannot be great again without vibrant culture

Photo credit: pixabay/ninocare cc0 public domain.

When people around the world think of America, what do they usually have on their minds?

It’s America’s culture: Hollywood movies, Broadway musicals, jazz, blues, Country Western music, Hip-Hop, rap, modern art such as Andy Warhol.

Especially for a country whose culture is not based on ethnic heritage or ancient history, American culture and arts are the public face of the United States to the world.

The proposal for President Donald J. Trump’s federal budget for 2018 calls for a complete elimination of several federally funded cultural programs, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, among others.

These federal agencies account for a miniscule percentage of total federal discretionary spending each year. Yet, they make great impact on how Americans connect to culture and arts — especially in rural communities far from the major “cultural centers” such as New York and Los Angeles. Some of the funds are used to create public arts in depressed small towns, a “placemaking” program to foster a sense of community and its connections to the land, history, and natural heritage. Such programs help boost local economy, encourage civic engagement, and reduce street crimes.

As it stands, the United States of America is one of few developed countries in the world that has no national ministry of culture or secretariat of culture.

It is a frequent complaint from the Republican Party (this isn’t new) that the agencies such as the Corporate for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts “waste” taxpayer money on something they feel is “objectionable.” Part of this complaint is actually justifiable: lacking a central cultural ministry, the U.S. federal government has established a patchwork of relatively invisible agencies whose main existences are to make grants to private organizations and local governments. This makes their activities look somewhat opaque.

The solution is not to eliminate these agencies, but rather to consolidate them into a singular agency either as a cabinet-level department or as a bureau under the Department of Education.

It could perhaps be named the U.S. Media and Cultural Services (USMCS), with its head to be subject to senatorial confirmation. Or, alternately, it could be headed by a commission with several commissioners serving a staggering 10-year term to ensure that no single president can politicize USMCS.

USMCS could be a corporate umbrella for:

  • National Endowment for the Arts
  • National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Institute of Museum and Library Services
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which itself could be eliminated to reduce redundancy) and its subsidiaries such as National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service
  • Broadcasting Board of Governors and its subsidiaries such as Voice of America
  • National Historic Sites and Landmarks portions of the National Park Service (to be transferred from NPS, Department of the Interior)

With reduced redundancy in top-level management USMCS could save expenses while maximizing its funding on cultural, arts, and media programs.

President Trump has made “Make America Great Again” his battle cry; yet, a nation without its own culture and arts is no nation at all — perhaps more so than “a nation without borders.” (Consider, that most countries of the European Union participate in the Schengen Treaty and thus have no discernible borders — yet each of these countries boasts a rich national culture, which has not disappeared because of Schengen or the European integration.)