America's Cultural Capital

Recommendations for Structuring the Federal Role

Center for Arts and Culture

The Center for Arts and Culture, an independent think tank on cultural policy, began work on its Art, Culture and the National Agenda project in 2000. Scholars, artists, and practitioners from around the country were commissioned to write background papers on the most pressing concerns facing the cultural sector. With nearly 100 papers submitted to the project, the Center's board, research advisory council, and staff, in discussion with leading policymakers, crafted a set of four structural recommendations for the federal government. Throughout 2001, the Center will be releasing issue briefs summarizing contributors' ideas and recommendations, as well as current research in the field.

Center for Arts and Culture, May 2001

Culture is a national resource, the accumulated capital of America's ingenuity and creativity. It is the store of human achievement and memory as well as the font of creativity and innovation. Our cultural capital has become increasingly valuable in a global, knowledge-based economy, and it has become a key social source as people in the United States and around the world seek to preserve their identities and to understand others.

The Center for Arts and Culture strives to foster a national conversation about America's cultural wealth and well-being. During 2001, the Center will be issuing a series of briefing papers that we hope will deepen the discourse about America's artistic creativity, imaginative spirit, cultural life, and the preservation of its cultural heritage. This paper, the first in the series, focuses on four structural recommendations that are intended to improve federal policymaking in these areas. The Center offers these for discussion, debate, and further refinement. We recommend that:

• The President establish a mechanism to advise and coordinate cultural affairs in the Executive Office of the President.

• The Department of State establish an Under Secretary for Cultural Affairs.

• Congress develop more comprehensive and integrated approaches to policies affecting cultural affairs.

• Congress and the President create a National Forum on Creativity and Cultural Heritage.

Policymaking at the federal level relevant to the arts, humanities, and cultural preservation often has been fragmented and fitful. The Center's four proposals aim to create focal points for cultural policies within government that will be better informed, better integrated, and, above all, more suitably aligned with the demands of a global, knowledge-based society.

The Contributions of the Cultural Sector

Changes in technology and the global economy compel us to think in new ways about creativity and cultural heritage. Some countries, and now even some states, counties, cities, and towns in the United States, have begun to consider “cultural industries” as a distinctive sector of their economies. Some have begun to analyze the significant contributions that “creative clusters,” “creative communities,” or the “creative workforce” are now making to domestic productivity, job growth, and export earnings.

Culture's economic contribution is substantial. In the United States, copyright industries, which include film, video, music, publishing, and software, generate nearly $450 billion in annual revenues, roughly 5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. They contribute more than $79 billion in global sales. An estimated 7.6 million people now work in these fields, their numbers growing at a rate that has far outpaced job growth in many other economic sectors. The cultural sector, which is a part of the copyright industries, accounts for nearly 2.5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

The growing interest in creativity is a response to the relentless pace of innovation in the Information Age. Educators and economists alike are questioning how we can best educate and train a skilled and adaptable workforce for the future.

Creativity and innovation can never be divorced from concerns about preserving and understanding the cultural legacies that nourish and sustain imagination. A superabundance of information moving at lightning speed is not knowledge and will not yield wisdom without criteria for judgment and a habit of reflection. Constant innovation can sever our connections with the past and lead us to neglect our sources of collective memory, values, and identity. Whether historic sites and buildings, collections of documents and books, archives of films and tape, or the skills and techniques of artisans, much of our cultural heritage is now at serious risk of being lost.

In the United States, we are beginning to understand that creativity and cultural heritage can contribute to our well-being in ways that are difficult to evaluate in financial or utilitarian terms. Some policy scholars have begun to develop cultural indicators that help to assess the health of neighborhoods and communities. Foundations have supported programs to draw on the power of the arts and humanities as tools of civic engagement. Scholars concerned with civil society are working to understand how cultural organizations build social capital, by studying the networks and organizations that create and sustain a sense of trust, reciprocity, mutual obligation, and engagement.

We can view culture from an economic perspective and thus see creativity and heritage as keys to our continuing success in the new economy. Or we can examine it from a social perspective and see it as the capital that holds communities together and helps them adapt to change. In either case, we must think in new ways about public policies that affect this sector.

Defining Terms

Although still amorphous and open to continuing redefinition, the concepts of “cultural industries” or a “creative sector” offer important insights into some of the resources that are capable of producing wealth in the new economy as well as sustaining communities in a time of rapid change. These concepts allow us to see relationships that embrace both not-for-profit cultural organizations and commercial firms engaged in publishing, broadcasting, film, recording, the performing arts, the visual arts, and design. We can also begin to discern how varied and interconnected are the forms of participation in artistic cultural endeavors — singing in amateur choral groups, pursuing genealogical research, attending professional performances, museum exhibits, and classes in a college's extension division, purchasing books and recordings, watching television, or going to the movies. We can see how boundaries shift and blur over time for high culture, popular culture, and mass entertainment. And we can view the arts and humanities not as two isolated collections of artistic and academic disciplines, but as twin parts of a more expansive, interrelated cultural sector.

The cultural sector embraces both creative artists and scholars in the humanities. The sector includes all sorts of institutions and individuals: the galleries and performing arts centers that present and display works; the libraries and archives that preserve our cultural heritage and make scholarly study possible; the not-for-profit and for-profit organizations that determine what is produced and how it is disseminated; the amateur (or unincorporated) organizations through which so many Americans participate in the arts; and those educators at all levels who can engender a love for the arts, an appreciation of the past, and a critical capacity to weigh what is ephemeral, what is worthy, what is meaningful.

Policy Tools

The mechanisms that the federal government has used in the cultural arena have provided, for the most part, indirect encouragement and protection of free and competitive markets, and protection of intellectual property and the public interest in it. In the not-for-profit area, tax incentives bolster our traditions of private charitable giving. According to the best estimates, individual donors, foundations, and corporations gave more than $10 billion to arts, cultural, and humanities organizations in 1999.

Annual direct appropriations to federal cultural agencies such as the Smithsonian Institution, Library of Congress, National Archives, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, among many others, have totaled approximately $2 billion in recent years. Even as the budgets of some federal cultural agencies were being cut in the 1990s, state and local government support was growing substantially. In 1999 state legislatures appropriated about $400 million in funding for the arts, while local governments spent in excess of $800 million. It is far more difficult to measure state and local outlays for the humanities since most of that spending is embedded in budgets for colleges, universities, and library systems.

Ever since the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1965, their principal objects of direct concern have been the nation's not-for-profit organizations. The rationale for subsidizing these activities, as is the case with all not-for-profit endeavors, has been that market forces alone, even when bolstered by private philanthropy, cannot preserve what needs to be preserved or assure availability and access to cultural opportunities. In turn, the cultural sector affects education, housing, economic development, and other critical factors in our communities.

While fiscal concerns and the health of not-for-profit arts and humanities institutions will no doubt remain important features of cultural policymaking, we must now begin to address broader and more complicated policy questions. Issues affecting our creative life and cultural heritage arise in trade negotiations, anti-trust enforcement, copyright and patent law decisions, public broadcasting operations, access to the airwaves and common carriers such as the Internet and cable, and our relations with other countries.

Policymaking about the cultural sector is spread widely throughout the government through some 200 programs in at least thirty federal agencies. We must begin to consider their interrelationships and to think in more coherent ways abut policies affecting this sector. The framework that emerged in the 1960s addressed some of the concerns of that era, but a host of new ones requires more concerted attention.

The Center's briefing papers will explore this new roster of issues. Some of the impending decisions are driven by technological changes; others arise in the context of international trade and diplomacy; still others emerge within local communities and neighborhoods as the nation's demography changes. Our initial issue briefs will be devoted to the following topics:

• Preserving Our Heritage
• Improving Access to Culture
• Creativity, Culture, Education, and the Workforce
• Strengthening American Communities through Culture
• Globalization and Cultural Diplomacy
• Sustaining the Investment in Creativity and Culture
• Intellectual Property in the Information Age

Given the clear need for national leadership in this arena, the Center focuses on the federal policymaking framework as a first step.


The complete report (16 pages) includes rationales, background, and specific structural recommendations for each of the four overarching policy recommendations. The report concludes:

The Center for Arts and Culture offers these structural recommendations for the federal government because we believe that the cultural capital of our nation must be a more central feature of federal policymaking in the twenty-first century. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan reminds us that ideas have sparked the surge in international trade and growth in productivity and wealth in recent decades. We have witnessed, he argues, the “substitution of ideas — new insights — for material bulk and brute human effort.” Many states and localities have already learned how ideas, so often embodied in artistic vitality and cultural heritage, can become substantial economic assets. Some are also seeing how culture serves as a social asset, enhancing the lives of individuals and strengthening communities. These are among the subjects the Center will explore in greater detail in subsequent issue briefs. National leadership at the federal level is essential as we build upon and preserve America's cultural capital.

The Center for Arts and Culture can be reached at
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