public arts commission  
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Focusing directly on art and politics, public arts commission seeks to redefine art's relation to the public for greater democracy within and outside art.

The activities of public arts commission include:
  1. Advancing a legislative agenda for redefining art’s relation to the public for greater democracy within and outside art

  2. Endorsing and supporting political campaigns that share public arts commission’s agenda

  3. Researching and publishing executive and legislative reviews based on the public arts commission legislative agenda

  4. Publishing an online quarterly journal

  5. Organizing exhibitions to feature art related to public arts commission’s mission

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The relation between art and governance remains a contentious one.  Socrates in Plato's Republic (c. 380 BC) banished tragic poets from his just city-state as he saw their imitation of his ideal form (truth) a danger to just governance1.   The use of art by states to support propaganda, from the various international expositions displaying nationalisms emanating from the Napoleonic Wars (1803 - 1815) to the spread of Abstract Expressionism in Western Europe by the United States State Department and Central Intelligence Agency during the Cold War (1947 – 1991), has become an often cited and sometimes legitimate critique of state-sponsored art.  Yet, the infinitesimal funding for public art by the U.S. government remains another area of critique as the near absence of the public in decisions regarding art appears symptomatic of a much larger struggle over the nature of politics in the twenty-first century.  Contrary to state-sponsored propaganda or the abdication of the public to privatization and eventual oligarchic control under austerity, public art looks different.  This is to say, public art can look neither statist nor corporatist as long as the public has a role in determining the art.   public arts commission believes a democratic process is necessary not only in determining public art, but that public art is necessary for the democratic process.

public art is necessary for the democratic process

How is public art necessary for the democratic process?  Art allows for greater understanding of our consciousness by making sensible different understandings of the world.  Each work represents a different perception of consciousness.   Access to art is unequal.  The privatization of art has meant fewer opportunities for ordinary citizens to see art in their daily lives as art increasingly becomes seen as exclusionary save for the very wealthy.  The ability of the public to see art and gain greater understanding of different consciousness dwindles and contributes to a weakened political imaginary at the same time a greater political imaginary is necessary to overcome divisions that privatize the interests of government.  Both a greater public art and greater political imaginary are necessary to better realize democracy, which we need if we want our government to work better for everyone.

the state of public arts

Public arts in the U.S. face some major challenges.  U.S. state and federal spending on the arts represents historically miniscule investment when compared with governments such as those in Germany, which spent $1.63 billion in 20132, and Australia, which spent $7 billion as from 2011-20123.  Federal spending on the National Endowment for the Arts (N.E.A.) substantially declined since 1978 considering inflation.  In 2015, the U.S. allocated $148 million or 0.012 percent (about one one-hundredth of one percent) of federal discretionary spending to the N.E.A., the only dedicated federal agency for the arts in the country4.  The largest federal project for the arts came from Federal Project One5 as part of the Work Projects Administration during the New Deal (1933 - 1937).  Today, U.S. states spend an average of about $1.09 per capita on the arts according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies6.  Combined, the U.S. state and federal spending on the arts belies spending on the arts and cultural production as part of the U.S. gross domestic product, which increased substantially according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.   The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis found the value of arts and cultural production in America in 2014 amounts to $729.6 billion or 4.2 percent of U.S. gross domestic product7.  Meanwhile, various U.S. state and federal programs have adopted percent for art programs.  Since 1963, the U.S. General Services Administration has allocated one percent of the cost of federal buildings towards art and decoration.  More than half of the states maintain a percent-for-art program.8

Of the miniscule funding from U.S. federal and state governments, artists are barred from receiving individual grants.  Artists, the producers of the arts, become squeezed as bureaucrats craft budgets to fulfill largely corporate (albeit non-profit) interests.  public arts commission seeks to ensure artists are the direct recipients of funding for their work in line with its mission to give local autonomy to the producers of art.  public arts commission believes a healthy public art requires a healthy art work-force, including artists.  Many programs for government funding of individual artists by different countries exist, notably in Australia, Finland and Germany.  While the defunding of artists directly by the N.E.A. starting in 1993 had clear political motivations following the Culture Wars in the U.S. A further discussion of the politics as well as economics of such a defunding of artists and public art in general is necessary given the challenges facing the country and the world.  public arts commission seeks to facilitate such a discussion as art ignores public debate at the peril of becoming politically irrelevant even as private dollars spent on art may increase.

about public arts commission

public arts commission is an organization that seeks to redefine art’s relation to the public for greater democracy within and outside art.  Founded in April 2017, public arts commission came from a desire to develop the political imaginary necessary to overcome major social divisions through the expansion of the role of the public in art and art in politics.  public arts commission seeks to build a greater political imaginary by giving art a seat at the table at all levels of government as well as facilitating a greater art about politics by increasing public art.  

The operations of public arts commission include (1) helping political campaigns that represent public arts commission’s goals and values, (2) helping advance legislation that supports strengthening and growing public arts in the United States, (3) building public arts commission membership, (4) facilitating engagement between arts practitioners interested in growing and strengthening public arts and their public representatives, (5) empowering artists.  

public arts commission offers support to political campaigns at all levels of government that represent its goals and values and fit the criteria of public arts commission’s campaign endorsement terms.  Endorsed political campaigns by public arts commission receive promotion through the web and social media.  public arts commission may also provide on a race by race basis grass-roots fundraising, an article about the campaign published in the public arts commission (PAC) journal and get out the vote texting.

public arts commission helps advance legislation that supports strengthening and growing public arts in the United States among other items that fit the public arts commission criteria according to its goals and values.  public arts commission will research and analyze legislative items to provide newsletters to public arts commission Members and Subscribers on relevant topics to the public arts commission mission.  public arts commission will also seek to educate legislators on how legislative items may relate to its mission, goals and values.  

public arts commission is a member-driven organization. The public arts commission Members may nominate political campaigns for consideration of an endorsement as well as propose positions on various legislative items related to the public arts commission mission, goals and values. public arts commission is working on launching a Member’s portal to serve as a forum in which Members may discuss the direction of public arts commission, relevant political campaigns and public art in addition to opportunities to connect. To support local, grass-roots organizing, public arts commission will establish local offices in every state.

public arts commission will help facilitate engagement between arts practitioners interested in growing and strengthening public arts and their public representatives. The arts represent a large constituency in our economy and culture. It’s time our politics reflect and inflect the state of the arts for greater democracy. public arts commission will identify, connect and support key constituents in every state of the United States who help advance a greater public arts agenda. The key constituents will liaise locally to ensure representation on the local level.

public arts commission seeks to empower artists to make greater public art and engage politics directly by putting artists in a seat at the table at all levels of government to ensure equal and fair representation.

public arts commission will critically support local autonomy and thereby not favor one particular art form over another (since no two locations are the same), but rather favor public participation in the determination of public art.  public arts commission focuses on the intersection of art and politics, which distinguishes the organization from many private non-profit arts organizations and government arts and cultural organizations, which U.S. law largely bar from political activity.  For instance, the N.E.A. is barred from an advocacy role while many private, non-profit arts organizations claim an advocacy role but remain ineffectual in determining campaigns and legislation due to tax laws that prohibit 501(c)(3)s from influencing political campaigns and legislation. 

public arts commission was launched in April 2017 by stephen garrett dewyer, an artist and part-time professor, and is based in the Minneapolis - St. Paul area of Minnesota.

works cited

1 “the tragic poet is an imitator, and therefore, like all other imitators, he is thrice removed from the king and from the truth” (Plato, Republic).

2 Gummow, Jodie, “Culturally Impoverished: US NEA Spends 1/40th of What Germany Doles Out for Arts Per Capita”, AlterNet, 5 February 2014:

3 Australian Government Australia Council for the Arts, “Arts Nation: An Overview of Australian Arts”, 2015 edition: p. 35,

4 National Endowment for the Arts, “The Arts and Economic Growth”, 2017, and U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Value Added by Industry as a Percentage of Gross Domestic Product”, 2016.

5 The U.S. Congress directed $27 million to Federal Project Number One from the $4.88 billion allocated by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935.

6 Halperin, Julia, “US arts funding by the numbers: Washington, DC, leads the nation in arts spending per capita, but which state spends the least?” The Art Newspaper, 12 June 2015:

7 National Endowment for the Arts, “The Arts and Economic Growth”, 2017, and U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, “Value Added by Industry as a Percentage of Gross Domestic Product”, 2016.

8 National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, State Percent for Art Programs:
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