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Obama’s Victory Means High Expectations for Arts

During the primary campaign, some journalists reported on what the candidates were proposing for the arts. Early on, arts leaders and enthusiasts buzzed about how Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Republican candidate. (During his tenure, Huckabee supported arts education, including music and art instruction by certified teachers in elementary school.) Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton posted fairly detailed policies on their Web sites.

Between the two presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain offered a vague policy statement consisting of 110 words, while Sen. Obama proposed a platform that included investing in arts education, increasing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and promoting cultural diplomacy.

Now, artists and art leaders will eventually be looking for the spoils with President-elect Obama taking office.

Yesterday, Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization that lobbies for the arts, sent out a letter saying the election results will have “tremendous impact on the nation’s arts community, public schools and creative workforce.” It also credited the Congressional elections with having “expanded the base of support for the arts in Congress.”

What the letter neglected to mention was the loss of U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, the last New England Republican in the House who will leave his position after serving 10 terms. Rep. Shays also will leave his position as the Republican co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus. The caucus is a bipartisan organization for Congressional members who support the arts through federal initiatives, including preserving NEA funding. That body has 178 members with 23 Republicans. (Thhe caucus includes Ben Chandler and John Yarmuth, who were reelected to represent Kentucky, and Peter J. Visclosky, who won to continue representing Northwest Indiana).

The caucus has helped boost appropriations for the NEA, which fell sharply from $176 million in 1992 to $97.6 million in 2000. Funding has increased in recent years, with $144.7 million appropriated in 2008. The reductions meant less money for the NEA to allocate to states. The NEA and the Kentucky State Legislature provide all funding for the Kentucky Arts Council programs, grants and services. From 1996-2004, the money the Kentucky Arts Council received from the NEA fell from 18.6 percent to 13.5 percent.

There is no word on which Republican will replace Shays, who received an A+ from the Americans for the Artsfor his support of arts-oriented legislation. The remaining Republicans with the next highest scores are Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, who was just elected to his sixth term; Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, who was elected to Congress in 2002; and Rep. Todd Platts of Pennsylvania, who just won a fifth term in Congress.