Why France Has a Minister of Culture…and the U.S. Does Not
So I was reminded that France has a Minister of Culture when he was quoted this week in reference to the burning of the roof of Notre Dame. I don’t know what he said but the fact that culture is considered so vital to that country’s identity that there would be a government minister just to make these remarks and do other culture-related tasks blows my mind.
Can you imagine what a Minister of Culture might do in the U.S.? Participate in a ribbon cutting at a new Disneyland or designate the new Apple headquarters, in the shape of a translucent portobello mushroom, a national heritage?
I suppose one could argue that the President usurps this role in his annual awarding of medals to great artists and athletes and musicians. But France doesn’t mix sports with art: it also has a Minister of Sport, which alas, the U.S. lacks as well.
This country does have a history of culture, but it’s the culture of the cultures we’ve destroyed through killings, forced migrations, slavery, and exclusion. So we have Native American weavings, jewelry, sculptures, myths, and dance; from the natives of African countries forced into slavery, blues and jazz and gospel, poetry and literature and history; and from the Vietnamese whose country we tried to but couldn’t destroy, and the Japanese we put into concentration camps, and the Chinese whose women we excluded and whom we worked to death on building our railroads, art, music, literature, ceramics, textiles, and ichibana.
Our country was founded by those inculcated with the Protestant culture. It was and is a culture that values money over the arts, although one might argue there’s artfulness in the sermonizing tracts of Cotton Mather. And those with money generally like to acquire works of art, support symphonies and libraries and museums. But art isn’t part of our collective consciousness the way it is for the French or the Italians or the Greeks or the Japanese.
A U.S. Minister of Culture could change all that by diverting the billions to erect a barrier between our country and Mexico (or Canada, if they decide to invade) for artists, art centers, art education, and community art projects. Venezuela did it for training musicians. Cuba did it for ballet education. But it doesn’t require a socialist state to support the arts. All we’d need is a new cabinet position.