Bernie Sanders speaking about his support of the arts (screenshot via YouTube)

Bernie Sanders speaking about his support of the arts (screenshot via YouTube)

Oh, that Bernie. He knows just how to win us over. First he picks up an endorsement from the rapper (and one half of Outkast) Big Boi, and now he’s made a video promising to be an “arts president.”

In the video, produced by the Arts Action Fund, Sanders reflects on his time as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, explaining that in 1981, he helped establish the Burlington Arts Council. “At that time, way back when, it was almost unheard of to have a municipally funded and supported effort to promote the arts,” he says. The goal was to “unleash the creativity of our residents and harness the untold benefits that investments in the arts bring to communities.” He calls the creation of the council “one of my proudest achievements” as mayor.

Sanders then mentions his continued efforts in support of the arts in Congress and goes on to “promise that as president, I will be an arts president. I will continue to advocate strongly for robust funding of the arts in our cities, schools, and public spaces. Art is speech. Art is what life is about.” And it could just be the sound of that deep Brooklyn accent working on us — we brauwt the ahwts to neighbahood pahwks — but it’s thrilling.

YouTube video

The other much-discussed Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, has not yet released a video or directed statement about supporting the arts, as far as we know. The Arts Action Fund did recently post a short video of Clinton responding to a question about her stance on arts education. Her answer ultimately veers from the topic but is compelling:

I support arts education, I support the National Endowment for the Arts … because I really think that arts education is important on the merits. I was exposed to arts education in a public school system — and I’m no great artist, I think that’s probably well known to people — but it really gave me information and access to thinking about things differently than I would have.

YouTube video

The Republican candidates, meanwhile, are considering the arts indirectly, by mimicking them: the debates are a cross between performance art and reality TV, and Donald Trump is the terrifying star.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...

9 replies on “White House Hopeful Bernie Sanders Promises to Be an “Arts President””

  1. The Senator needs to update himself on when public art programs really started to get up and running. As examples, in Washington State both King County and Seattle started in 1972, by the mid-70’s Price George’s County Maryland had a comprehensive arts program running, followed by Denver, San Francisco, and others before ’81. But these wee details don’t keep me from throwing my support behind the Senator.

    1. Yeah, I hear he breathed oxygen, too. JUST LIKE BERNIE SANDERS!

      Thanks for the rather pointless comment, Gerald.

      1. The point, obviously, is that “robust funding of the arts” means taxing people, whether they wish it or not, to produce art that is government approved. Artists who bite the hand that feeds them do not get government grant money. Not in the USSR, and not here. If that’s not “pointy” enough, tough.

        1. Your view of the relationship of public arts to the citizenry appears to be deeply jaundiced. It seems to stem from a weirdly settler mentality view of the federal government mixed with a suspicion of communal/collective activity. The arts are NOT always acting as a conduit for governmental agendas, nor are they necessarily predicated on taking something away (usually money) from citizens. Often they are about giving citizens something they did not realize would enrich their lives–often at no financial cost to them. Honestly, do you look at what local art organizations are doing for he communities they serve? There are several, just in the NYC area, that are predicated on generosity and an ideal of public good. Are you capable of seeing and acknowledging this?

          1. I speak from experience, Seph. I do not wish to put too fine a point on this to you, as you are cut from a cloth unlike Mr. Hickey above. I was addressing only the issue of taxing citizens to provide “art.” I am against it. Citizens may, and should, take it upon themselves to support what is important to them. The work that local arts organizations do can be inestimably valuable. But I am familiar with the strings often attached to government grant money and I abhor this aspect. “Generosity and an idea of public good” is a noble concept — unless it is done with money extorted from people, a growing number of whom can ill-afford this luxury. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

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