Let’s Get Political: Presidential Candidates’ Stance on the Arts

Demonstration 2017

When I was in high school, I attended a football-crazed school that neglected to show much support for the arts. Despite prodding from arts advocates in the area, our school (though ranked high) lacked an auditorium and had minimal funding for the visual and performing arts. In the four years I attended, the administration managed to secure major gym equipment, a sports complex, gym and track renovations, a new football field with a state-of-the-art turf, a jumbotron, and numerous other investments. We had “random drug tests” that somehow skipped athletes until post-season while the reject kids were randomly selected all too frequently. I attributed drug tests to Jewish Passover but instead of blood from a slaughtered lamb, students needed a jockstrap and a low GPA with the claim that it was due to a “sports related concussion.”

Clearly, my frustrations were high so senior year I wrote a particularly gutsy speech in my Business class that dug into our lagging arts program by comparing it to national, state, and local arts education standards along with comparisons of athletic coach salaries beside other teachers and administrators. Upon giving the speech, my teacher invited the Dean showed up. Midway through she walked out of the speech. She didn’t speak to me again until graduation day where she announced my name…but ya know what?? For the first time ever my name was Leila and not Leeyla so that’s a feat in and of itself (but that’s beside the point.)

After 18 years of the orange-bleeding, Vols football lovin’ South, I made it my priority to find a college where the arts wouldn’t be treated as “that crap gun-hating liberals seem to like.” Upon making my final decisions, a university that lacked a football team was a major deciding factor. When I addressed this opinion to friends who went into the arts, they expressed similar feelings. With the way our nation treats the arts, we as art advocates need to consider how legislators and political leaders support our cause. While this rant was about high school funding, it’s important to consider the source of most school art programs, federal funds. With the presidential election coming up I thought I’d go through what I’ve found in regards to our leading candidates stance on funding the arts. This material can be cited on the Americans for the Arts Action fund page when searching individual candidates. Since this election hardly touched on the arts, the candidates’ stances are mostly based on past policies and actions. I’ll begin by looking at the forerunners of the Republican Party followed by the Democratic nominees in order of their place in the polls. Currently, the leading Republicans are Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio while the Democratic forerunners are Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Republican Party: Donald Trump

Trump, leading the Republican Party opposes Common Core standards despite his television hosting days, which he considers to be a “personal background in the arts.” While he’s donated a substantial sum of money to arts-affiliated organizations for a normal wealthy man, it’s rather feeble in comparison to the vast fortune he boasts. His policies on arts funding are so ambiguous that the Americans for the Arts Actions Fund was unable to give him a rating on his art related policies.

Republican Party: Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz, Senator from Texas is possibly the greatest threat to the arts in regards to presidential candidates as he opposes Common Core and believes that no federal funding should be granted toward the arts. He in not a member of the Senate’s Cultural Caucus and has publically advocated for total removal of the National Endowment for the Arts. Despite the large revenue the arts generate in Texas’s economy he has refused to sign pro-arts funding legislation and is publically opposed by the Americans for the Arts Action Fund.

Republican Party: Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio, who is currently third in the Republican primary is also uninvolved in the Senate’s Cultural Caucus. Like Cruz, he lacks endorsement from Americans for the Arts Action Fund and refused to sign arts funding legislation in 2013-2014 despite Florida’s artistically infused culture where he serves as Senator.


The Democratic nominees [would it be biased for me to insert cheesy angels singing here?] take a different stance on the arts. While funding isn’t quite as strong as we might hope, its advocacy is more relevant to the candidates’ platform.

Democratic Party: Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton, who is currently leading the polls, has been recognized for arts advocacy since her time as First Lady. Unlike Cruz and Rubio who are unsupported by the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, Clinton has won awards from the action fund for advocacy and received an A- on her report card. She’s been cited numerous times on supporting the arts and works with Art in Embassies, the National Dance Education Organization, and Creative America. While some of her voting in the past has hurt the arts, her overall stance is supportive in regards to federal funding.

Democratic Party: Bernie Sanders

Finally, Bernie Sanders has been a filmmaker and freelance writer to support leftist causes. He helps sustain the Walter Reed Healing Arts Partnership (an organization geared toward veterans.) Sanders hosts an Annual Bernie Sanders Concert to feature Vermont high school choirs, once blocked a condo development as mayor to arrange a public park that promotes local concerts and music festivals, and has consistently received perfect scores and support from the Americans for the Arts Action fund while in Congress. Figures for the arts and the revenue it raised in Sander’s town are incredibly high, as are figures in Vermont in proportion to other states. Finally Sanders is the only candidate in this election to outwardly address arts funding in a speech where he vowed to be “an arts president.”

And on a Final Note….

Of course, these points aren’t intended to be the sole basis for which a candidate should be chosen. However, as a supporter of the arts, it is a point that deserves consideration. A popular cliché states, “The arts are not a luxury but a necessity.” That being said, it’s time we start prioritizing it to give art the credence it deserves. At the present, the arts are becoming more reliant on private funding. However, the removal from it in the school systems would be a huge loss to American culture. So remember the arts when you’re voting this election season. Your decision may determine how and to what degree the arts change in schools nationwide.