- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

Legendary music producer Quincy Jones wants a Cabinet-level secretary of arts and culture post, and he and other artists think a hipper and pop-culture-savvier new president could finally make it happen.

“The next conversation I have with President Obama is to beg for a secretary of arts,” he said in a recent radio interview.

Mr. Jones has advocated for a national culture secretary over the past 10 years, saying that youth need to understand the key role that the arts play in broadening their education and expanding what he sees as the nation’s increasingly stagnant culture.

While Mr. Jones has said publicly that he knows Mr. Obama will have plenty of pressing issues on his plate as he assumes his new role as president, some see the famed musical legend’s chances improving as he leverages his considerable international influence on the youthful and iPod-toting commander in chief, who seems to be a music lover.

As government support of the arts, particularly in public education, has diminished over the years, many artists hope Mr. Obama will reinvigorate it during his term in office, having campaigned on the issue during the presidential election. Arts supporters say having Mr. Jones’ counsel can’t hurt.

“Quincy Jones has always been on the cutting edge of artistic expression as it relates to the mainstream. He understands that in order to elevate people you have to go where they live. You’ve got to be relatable in their life,” Nashville-based songwriter and public relations executive Holly Gleason said of his influence in the arts.

“Quincy is an icon of both at the curb black culture and elevated black culture,” Miss Gleason adds. “That gives him street cred along with the ability to move through sophisticated environments … It’s hard not to take him seriously.”

New York musicians Jaime Austria and Peter Weitzner started an online petition late last year to garner support for Mr. Jones’ idea. Thus far, more than 131,000 have signed on at www.petitiononline.com/esnyc/.

“We are not quite sure, especially in this environment, what the secretary of the arts could provide, but foremost is advocacy for arts education and awareness of the financial rewards the arts bring to a community,” Mr. Weitzner told Rolling Stone magazine.

The nonprofit Americans for the Arts on Tuesday announced policy recommendations to the Obama administration and the new Congress, citing its role in economic improvement for the nation.

“The arts mean jobs and tremendous economic activity in America and must be part of our country´s economic recovery,” the group said in a statement on its Web site, adding that nonprofit arts groups and their audiences help to bring in $166 billion in government revenue annually, with every $1 billion in spent by nonprofit arts and culture organizations bringing in close to 70,000 jobs.

The organization called on the new administration to follow through on nine proposals, including supporting community development block grants for the arts; increasing the National Endowment for the Arts’ annual budget to $200 million; and acting on Mr. Obama’s suggestion for an “artists Corps of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities” as a national training program to offer mentorship and support for those interested in work in creative endeavors.

Recording artist Allison Moorer, a country star and wife of crooner Steve Earle, said she supports Mr. Jones’ suggestion and sees value in the Obama administration championing arts renewal.

“I think in order to become a truly civilized country, we need a secretary of the arts, or something to that effect,” Mrs. Moorer said. “It is necessary because it is a huge part of how we tell our stories. It is a huge part of how we communicate with each other. It is a huge part of how we heal when bad things happen to us.”

Mrs. Moorer says art is an indispensable element of everybody’s education and some people’s careers.

“Art allows and encourages children to express themselves, and that, in turn, makes them happier and easier to keep in school,” she said. “Art programs in schools allow those with a more artistic, rather than an athletic, bent thrive. Countless studies have shown that grades go up when kids are in art programs. Personally, I used to make up songs in order to memorize - I can remember melodies a lot easier than the state capitals.”

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