Obama's State of the Union: Another Missed Opportunity for Arts Education

Posted by Tim Mikulski, Jan 31, 2011 7 comments

Tim MikulskiI was planning to write a post about how President Obama made sure to put creativity and innovation at the forefront of his State of the Union last week, but somehow missed any references to the arts. There I was on a treadmill at my local Washington Sports Club, waiting for him to say it. And waiting. And running. And running. And waiting. It never came.

Before I could write a post about it, I came across another one making many of the exact same points. So, rather than state the same thing twice, I invite you to check out Lee Rosenbaum’s Huffington Post piece, State of the Arts: Why Culture Matters for Obamanomics.

In her post, Rosenbaum mentions that Capitol Hill may not be ready for a pro-arts argument following the National Portrait Gallery incident and an influx of new members of Congress who have no interest in funding the arts, humanities, railroads, or Americorps programs. I understand that, but even a passing line about turning STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) into STEAM (adding Arts), would have been easy to insert.

What if instead of…

“And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.”

…The President said (using some of the language of Education Secretary Duncan):

“And over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.

The STEM movement helped improve the education of the children of our competing nations, but those countries also did not walk away from their culture or their heritage. Educating the whole child through the study of art, music, dance, theater, and all the humanities, cannot end. They must all be combined into a form of education that appeals to every student, helping them find a place to excel – whether it be in the classroom, on the playing field, or in the orchestra. Educating the whole child will create a generation that is better at creativity and innovation; better at communication; and, better at being citizens of this country and the world at-large.”

So, there’s my “I wish the President said ____” quote.

What other places in the State of the Union speech do you think the arts or arts education could have been included?

7 responses for Obama's State of the Union: Another Missed Opportunity for Arts Education


January 31, 2011 at 9:11 pm

I loved coming across your post today, Tim. I felt the same way during the SOTU. I loved his segment on education and praising teachers, but I was left a little shocked that the arts weren't mentioned. It was talked around by calling for creative thinking and innovation, so why not connect that to the arts? Thanks for posting this- glad to know I wasn't the only one feeling like a key ingredient was missing from the President's speech.

  • Please login to post comments.
Marion says
January 31, 2011 at 10:50 am

Tim, I absolutely agree. I felt like Obama's discussion of "innovation" led to a perfect opening for innovation in the arts, as did his specific comments about education. I was even more disheartened the next morning when I read in The New York Times that the Republican Study Committee has called for an abolishment of the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA has stimulated artistic innovation across the country, and I'm disappointed - and, as an artist, I'm also offended - that our country is showing so little value in its fantastic arts programs.

  • Please login to post comments.
Barbara says
February 02, 2011 at 1:30 am

Come on, folks. While the President didn't mention the arts in this year's State of the Union speech (and certainly it would be great if he would mention it in every one), it should be obvious to anyone who pays attention that President and Mrs. Obama are huge supporters of the arts. In May 2009, just a few months after the Inauguration, Mrs. Obama spoke in NYC about the importance of the arts: “The arts are not just a nice thing to have,” she said, adding that the arts “define who we are as a people.” Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/19/nyregion/19michelle.html

The Obamas have hosted at least 5 or 6 programs for "In Performance at the White House" (PBS) which have been broadcast several times. And you can find all kinds of events, including online chats about the arts, special ceremonies and other activities, during which the Obamas' advocacy for the arts is quite clear. Check out this link: http://www.whitehouse.gov/search/site/the%20arts .

We are fortunate indeed to have a President who is an enthusiastic supporter of the arts. All the more reason for each of us to leverage this with personal advocacy, by contacting our Congressmen and Senators to make them aware of our strong support for the arts and arts education!

  • Please login to post comments.
Nicole says
February 01, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Agreed! I just wrote a post on this as well!

The President spoke of science and technology, of math, of higher education. All of which are great things. But there was not a mention of the arts, alone, or how they could be used to strengthen those things. Training in the arts- visual, music, dance, writing, theatre- is training in creativity. The arts teach improvisation, listening, personal interactions. The arts validate personal choices and voices. And those lessons and confirmations encourage children to explore, to think outside the box, to dream big. Creative problem solving, invention and risk taking are important skills for tomorrow’s entrepreneurs, leaders and employees, not just artists.

  • Please login to post comments.
Deb says
February 01, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Tim, you should be a speech writer. Just that little insertion would have gone a long way towards normalizing creativity and innovation in education. I was particularly struck by Colin Powell's comments in the article you linked to: "You can't fix the deficit or the national debt by killing NPR or the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Arts." Maybe this is a message the arts community needs to work on getting out.

  • Please login to post comments.
February 01, 2011 at 5:32 pm

I agree too with your article. But has President Obama ever mentioned the arts? Probably so but I just don't recall. Perhaps in his inaugural address? In fact, when was the last time a president or other well known official mentioned the arts? And, of course, the Republicans are threatening to ax the NEA, NEH, NPR, etc. The last time of major economic crisis, the WPA was created. Can you imagine the reaction today? I wonder why there is a hostility to the arts in certain sectors of this country?
Thanks so much for the insightful article. But be careful on that treadmill!

  • Please login to post comments.
Tim Mikulski says
February 01, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Thanks for the positive feedback and thoughts.

  • Please login to post comments.