The Role of Government in Public Humanities Work

This week’s reading centers on the role of government in creating and preserving cultural heritage. Doris Sommer examines the government-sponsored creativity and takes the examples of mayors from Bogota, Curitiba, Tirana, and many other cities to show how government can play a significant role in reviving civic commitments in cities through art. Many of their practices are very impressive, and I like the idea of “artistic acupuncture” which values creative practices in the process of recovery. Yet I have a strong feeling that the astounding success of Mayor Mockus has more to do with his own personality and artistic/academic background than with the spirit of the local government. Sommer also acknowledges that his disarming sense of humor and his training as a Ph.D. student in philosophy contributed to his success. If individual understanding and practice of art and his/her own character are so important, then how to promote (if not copy) similar programs in other parts of the world with a less culturally active mayor, besides taking into consideration of local conditions both in cultural tradition and political climate?

Robert Janes’ critique of marketplace strategy and analysis of its practice and harms is very inspiring. His account of working at three different museums as directors and experiencing three different models of funding and government support makes me wonder the evolution of government involvement in cultural institutions. I would like to thank Rica for discussing the role of government in funding museums in the U.S. and sharing with me a Wikipedia link regarding how the NEA has changed over time. I also found another book chapter Government Policy Toward Art Museums in the United States by Charles T. Clotfelter, though it was published in 1991 and didn’t touch on the contemporary issues, this essay gives me a brief overview of public policies toward art, government support, and the practice of funding agencies like NEA and NEH. The questions I think would be interesting to consider are what are the differences in American experience in government support of Arts compared to its European counterpart? How about other parts of the world? What has been the effect of these various federal programs on art museums? What are the features in contemporary distribution of grants, such as the geographical pattern and size of the institution?

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