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Liberal arts

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By Hayley Miller, News Correspondent

With a new administration ringing in promises of hope and change, some of America’s top political players, like Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense and Hilary Clinton as Secretary of the State, are in the hot seat. Now, a question concerning a Secretary of the Arts has arisen from everyday patrons of the arts across the country.

‘One of the United States’ largest exports is culture. To not have a national ambassador at a Cabinet level is kind of ludicrous if you think about it,’ said Emmett Price, chair of the African American Studies Department and associate professor of music.

It began with a plea last November from musical icon Quincy Jones. On the WNYC public radio program Soundcheck, Jones told host John Schaefer he would ‘beg [Obama] for a Secretary of the Arts.’ As an avid social activist and founder of several culture-related charities, Jones knew the importance of such a position.

‘I have traveled all over the world all the time for 54 years. The people abroad know more about our culture than we do,’ Jones said.

These statements inspired followers to create an online petition that has turned into an Internet phenomenon. The document already has more than 200,000 signatures.
Although federal agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for Humanity exist today with presidentially appointed chairpersons, there is no Cabinet-level position relating to the arts.

Professor Leon Janikian, coordinator of the Music Industry Department and associate professor of music, said he believes the primary function of a potential Secretary of the Arts should be to find funding for artists. But he said the position ‘doesn’t need to be Cabinet-level necessarily.’

Many countries across the world have administrative positions on par with’ the proposed Secretary of the Arts. For the past 50 years, for instance, France has boasted a Minister of Culture, who serves to promote cultural expansion and preserve national heritage.

‘Anytime the federal government wants to get involved with the arts, I think that is good,’ Janikian said, though he warned the government must be careful not to attempt to shape the tastes of the arts community.

Although Price said he recognizes other national matters that need to be addressed first, he is a firm believer that ‘at a certain point in time,’ the Secretary of the Arts position will be created and introduced to the Cabinet.

‘How can we utilize free expression and the power of creativity to maximize the idea of expression?’ Price asked, describing what he believes should be the main purpose of Secretary of the Arts role in the Cabinet.

Middler math and chemistry major Devin Murray said he would be concerned about ‘governmental censorship’ and his right to freedom of expression if such a position were to be created.

‘I think it’s really creepy and a little 1984-ish. Very governmental control, communist or fascist regime type thing,’ he said.

Furthermore, concerns about limitations of artistic license and freedom have been put forward.

‘You don’t want to get into issues like censorship and infringement,’ Price said. ‘Where in most things regulation can be good, creative expression regulation is never good.’

Other concerns include where the Secretary of the Arts might fit into a national budget.
Obama’s economic stimulus package has allotted $150 million to the NEA ‘- an amount unprecedented by past administrations.

The NEA declined to comment on the prospect of a Secretary of the Arts.

No official statement has been made yet by Obama about the position.

‘Much of the work of a Secretary of the Arts would be symbolic,’ said Jack Levin, a Brudnick Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Northeastern. ‘Unfortunately, when the federal government is forced to cut its budget, the position ‘hellip; might be the first to go.’

The petition is available at to be viewed or signed.

The student newspaper of Northeastern University
Liberal arts