Nominar un secretario de la Cultura y hacer que los puestos de directivos de instituciones culturales sean de 10 años en vez de cuatro para evitar tanta politiquería en los cargos, son algunas de las opciones que William R. Ferris le sugiere a Barack Obama para que como Roosevelt y Johnson deje una huella en la cultura aún en momentos de crisis. Ojalá y si se aprovecha la reforma económica como coyuntura para una reforma cultural en los Estados Unidos sea algo que cruze el charco y llegue hasta acá.
Put Culture in the cabinet
IN 1935, as part of the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Farm Security Administration, which reached out to rural families as they struggled during the Depression. Roy Stryker, who oversaw the agency’s photo documentary program, captured the strength of American culture in the depths of the country’s despair. The photographs of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks showed us both the pain of America and the resilience of its people.
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson drew on his Texas roots when he created the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, organizations that share America’s arts and humanities with the American people.
Both Roosevelt and Johnson demonstrated their forceful commitment to the preservation and celebration of American culture — and they did so in challenging times.
So what will President-elect Barack Obama do? Well, here’s a suggestion.
Over the years, America has developed an impressive array of federal cultural programs — in addition to the endowments for the arts and the humanities. These include the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, NPR, PBS and the Smithsonian Institution.
Each of these organizations has helped preserve our nation’s rich folklore — its music, stories and traditional arts — as a uniquely powerful voice for our culture.
But as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 1997 to 2001, I learned firsthand that these institutions, though united by a shared goal, can sometimes run into conflict with one another. There were bureaucratic tangles, overlaps and missteps that, with foresight, could have been avoided.
Which is why I believe the president should create a cabinet-level position — a secretary of culture — to provide more cohesive leadership for these impressive programs and to assure that they receive the recognition and financing they deserve.
The president should initiate another change, too. The leaders of our cultural institutions should all have renewable 10-year appointments. (Some now serve only four-year terms.) Such a change would help to provide continuity and insulate the organizations from the tumult of political change. This move would allow each agency to develop long-term agendas in coordination with the secretary of culture in each administration.
Mr. Obama has an opportunity to revitalize our national spirit by strengthening our cultural programs at every level. It’s hard to imagine what could be a more important — and enduring — legacy.
William R. Ferris is the senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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