I wrote a story in this week’s paper about the role of the arts in the democratic process.

Mostly, I explored a statement made by the novelist Stephen Elliott — that artists have empathy and are therefore liberal. I got a wide range of responses from a wide range of people: artists, an English professor, a philosopher, a political scientist, political pundits, and a poet.

While there was disagreement as to whether empathy is inherently political, there was no disagreement about whether the arts create empathy. Everyone agreed that engaging in the arts, trying to see the world through another person’s eyes, is good for creating empathy.

Though empathy has an unhealthy side (creating enablers for those with drug addiction, for instance), empathy, people said, was good for being a citizen in a country as plural as ours.

Sadly, I was unaware of a speech by Barack Obama that touches in this very topic. If I had been aware, I would have incorporated his position on the arts in the piece (or would have written an entirely different kind of story; I probably will in the future, especially if Barry wins the election).

I found that speech today, thanks to a piece in the Los Angeles Times. Obama in fact has said he will make the arts a core element of his presidential policy. He wants to:

Reinvest in Arts Education

Support Increased Funding for the NEA

Promote Cultural Diplomacy

Attract Foreign Talent

Provide Health Care to Artists

Ensure Tax Fairness for Artists

You can read all about his policy position here (pdf).

Most interesting is the reinvestment category. Here’s what he wants to do:

  • Expand Public/Private Partnerships Between Schools and Arts Organizations: Barack Obama and Joe Biden will increase resources for the U.S. Department of Education’s Arts Education Model Development and Dissemination Grants, which develop public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations. They will also engage the foundation and corporate community to increase support for public/private partnerships.
  • Create an Artist Corps: Barack Obama and Joe Biden support the creation of an “Artists Corps” of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities. Studies in Chicago have demonstrated that test scores improved faster for students enrolled in low-income schools that link arts across the curriculum than scores for students in schools lacking such programs.
  • Publicly Champion the Importance of Arts Education: As president, Barack Obama will use the bully pulpit and the example he will set in the White House to promote the importance of arts and arts education in America. Not only is arts education indispensable for success in a rapidly changing, high skill, information economy, but studies show that arts education raises test scores in other subject areas as well.

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