For a year and a half or so, I’ve been an advisor to a new and exciting project, the US Department of Arts and Culture, which is demonstrating the public cultural presence we need in this country by performing it. Watch Deputy Secretary Norman Beckett explain it in a video clip.

My role is Chief Policy Wonk, a title I love. Today, the USDAC launches a call for 12 Cultural Agents. Here’s how the press release described it: “This move signals an exciting new phase in the growth of the fledgling department. Drawn from a dozen different communities across the country, the twelve new Cultural Agents will embark on a process of training and community-building, culminating in the co-creation of ‘Imaginings.’ These arts-infused events will invite local participants to imagine and enact the world they wish to inhabit in 2034.” More information at the USDAC website: the deadline to apply to be in this first cohort of Cultural Agents is March 24th, and anyone can sign up anytime to join the USDAC mailing list, take the pledge as a Citizen Artist, and take part in other ways.

This locally based work is just part of the USDAC “sandwich.” On one side, grassroots organizing to engage and affect local communities in their own conscious cultural development; on the other side, a national vision of truly democratic cultural policy and intervention, fueling that local development and much more. In between, a vibrant national conversation about culture as the container for national and community renewal, about cultivating the imagination and empathy we need to create a future we want to inhabit.

Nationally, we foresee a range of related initiatives rolling out over time:

  • A cabinet of key leaders committed to USDAC values to monitor, comment on, and propose alternatives to existing cultural policy and initiatives.
  • Videos, publications, social media and other communication initiatives to stimulate and nurture the necessary new national conversation.
  • A crowd-sourced project to derive an encompassing national vision from which a new cultural policy proposal will be synthesized. It starts with the Imaginings described above.
  • Training initiatives, online dialogues, and other resources for local cultural development made accessible via the USDAC website.
  • Eventually, think-tanks and conferences engaging cabinet members and others who care about culture and democracy in envisaging the best strategic approach to adoption of new cultural policy—to making the USDAC not just a performance, but a reality.

Read the Statement of Values at the website, and keep returning as more and more resources will be posted there for sharing.

If the USDAC name sounds familiar, you may recall my blog from back in October 2013 when deranged right-wing commentator Glenn Beck got wind of a USDAC press conference performed at the Imagining America conference. That shows the incredible power that culture in the service of democracy can have: even a hint and the opponents of equity, pluralism, and participation are in a panic! I’m looking forward more to the friends the USDAC will make than the enemies it might annoy, but either way, I can’t wait to see what evolves.

Right now, the USDAC is a volunteer effort. The core conceputalizers and organizers of the project are used to that, though: in an undernourished climate for artists, it’s many artists’ path to hustle for sustenance so as to do what they love. Perhaps we’ll have resources to pay people one of these days, but right now, what we have to offer is connection, awesome in-kind support, and a little materials stipend for the selected Cultural Agents. Worth the hustle, I think!

Many of my fellow USDAC stalwarts are young enough to be my grandchildren, though happily, I haven’t noticed them giving me the side-eye when I reminisce about advocating for cultural democracy over the years. Some things take a long time to ripen; we never know when the fruit will drop. In the meantime, I’m “Pledging My Time,” courtesy of Bob Dylan.


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