Quincy Jones’ decade-long effort to establish a Secretary of Culture post representing arts and the humanities in the Cabinet might be one step closer to reality next week when President-elect Barack Obama is sworn into office. According to reports, 76,000 people have signed an online petition started by two musicians who were inspired by the legendary producer. In a recent radio interview, Jones said that he would implore Obama to create the post: “The next conversation I have with President Obama is to beg for a Secretary of Arts.” If there ever was a president who would embrace the idea, Obama is the one: we already know he digs the Dead, and a peek inside his iPod revealed loads of Stevie Wonder.
“I have traveled all over the world all the time for 54 years,” Jones told the Washington Post. “The people abroad know more about our culture than we do,” he lamented. “A month ago at my high school in Seattle, I asked a student if he knew who Louis Armstrong was. He said he had heard his name. I asked him about Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. He didn’t even know their names. That hurts me a lot.” Jones said he would like to see an education system that teaches the history and personalities of the arts, particularly music.
Last month, 15 organizations joined Americans for the Arts to lobby the Obama-Biden transition team to establish of Cabinet office to be approved by Congress. Both Obama and Vice President-elect Biden campaigned on platforms that called for reinvestment in the arts education, giving past examples of how Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie traveled as arts ambassadors during the Cold War. “Artists can be utilized again to help us win the war of ideas against Islamic extremism,” read the platform.
Citing a weak economy and an already overtaxed government, critics say the post will likely not be created. Meanwhile, Jones, who told reporters he would like to see an education system that teaches the history and personalities of the arts and music, remains cautiously optimistic. “I am not an unrealistic person,” he said. “[Obama] has got his hands full.”