O Arts Donors Where Art Thou?

Yesterday’s news that President Obama has finally expressed his support for gay marriage was great but much of the commentary around the decision has focused on the fact that many of his major donors are gay — 1 in 6, according to the Washington Post.

All this made me wonder. Why can’t the arts have the same leverage in Washington? Certainly there is no shortage of billionaires, millionaires and activists in the world of arts, yet we don’t have a sound cultural policy at the federal level, little federal funding and practically no arts education in schools.

I can’t help but wonder how many of those Obama donors are art collectors, art lovers, museum trustees or some type of arts supporter. Surely there aren’t more gay people in the US than there are arts lovers.


As a number of people on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere have pointed out. I should’ve been more nuanced in my discussion above. It was not an attempt to contrast a civil rights cause against the championing of the arts as much as an attempt to point out that the success of the gay or LGBT community to receive the endorsement of the US president for marriage equality is something the arts community should learn from.

The arts lobby is a diverse thing and it’s not only about money, it’s also about policy. There are many issues that an administration can be pushed to change, such as visas for foreign artists, performers, curators, etc., there are tax incentives that can be created to support the arts and that’s only the beginning. What we need to ask is why there is no incentive for US donors to support the arts community and help pass useful policies. Museums, galleries, nonprofits, individuals, everyone could benefit from these.

I’ve heard many post-9/11 stories where artists were less willing to travel to the US because of visa issues. There are also many undocumented artists and cultural workers in our midst that don’t fit our stereotype of the “illegal” and as a result are not the subject of media scare reports or political attacks so it is easy to forget that they exist but they most certainly do (and in greater numbers than we probably realize). My hope is that the arts community will start thinking of itself as a whole and not settle for the scraps we often get.

As a gay married man, I know very well that the first part of the struggle is being open about your ambitions for change (and focusing on a few goals) and then trying as hard as you can to make it happen. Even if Obama’s Change rhetoric was simply words most of the time, that doesn’t mean we can’t run with it and put the rhetoric into action.

photo of Obama via theurbandaily.com

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