Do we really think American artists are the best good will ambassadors for the nation? The State Department thinks they might contribute something worthwhile. This is why it sponsors an $11 million annual program to send American artists to other countries to sing, dance, perform, paint, sculpt, and read poetry, all in the belief that this will make the nations of the world love us more.
Apparently folks at the State Department don't read poetry journals, or visit art galleries and museums, or talk with many artists. Artists, you see, are not inclined to be "ambassadors" for anyone other than themselves and their art. Even though the State Department "screens" the artists they decide to fund, this is no guarantee that the artists will represent the nation's interests.
The New York Times reported (10/25/10), for example, that one artist created a "project" of providing sneakers - complete with flashlight and maps of the border - for Mexicans interested in entering the US illegally. Other artists, asked about the program, opined that the program was worthwhile for the artists - so that they could visit other cultures, you know - but that no artist worth his salt would feel the least compelled to put a happy face on the US in his or her art.One other artist said the program will not accomplish any good-will purposes for the country.
Why should our tax dollars be supporting artists no one's ever heard of, to offer programs and creations none of us will ever see, in countries where the people don't much seem to care? And how many other programs like this are there in the federal budget (Tom Coburn, call your office)?
This is the kind of poor stewardship of the public trust to which we should strenuously object. There's no doubt that the arts can do much - as Anne Bradstreet once opined. But this particular engagement of the arts seems unlikely to do much of any good for anyone, except a few unknown artists.
T. M. Moore