Bush or Dukakis? How Will the Arts Fare?

George Bush loves country music and the songs of Loretta Lynn. “That’s what he listens to all the time,” says the Vice President’s sister Nancy Ellis.

Michael Dukakis favors chamber music and string quartets, although he plays the trumpet. His wife, Kitty, says the Massachusetts governor didn’t appreciate modern dance until “I took him to his first concert at Jacob’s Pillow” in the summer of 1962.

Kitty Dukakis has been a modern dancer and taught dance. Her father, Harry Ellis Dickson, was a member of the first violin section of the Boston Symphony and associate conductor of the Boston Pops. John Dukakis, her son by her first marriage, has been an actor. And everyone knows potential first First Cousin Olympia Dukakis, who runs a theater in New Jersey and won the Oscar as best supporting actress for her role in “Moonstruck.”

Familial arts connections--and coincidence--abound in 1988 presidential politics. The GOP candidate’s sister, who recently left the board of overseers of the Boston Symphony, has been a dinner guest at the Democratic nominee’s father-in-law’s home. Sister-in-law Patty Bush is on the board of the St. Louis Museum of Art. Brother Jonathan Bush of New York had a brief career as a song-and-dance man Off-Broadway before he married. For her part, the Vice President’s wife, Barbara Bush, is active in the fight against illiteracy.


All that aside, what would a Bush Administration or a Dukakis Administration mean for the arts, and who might play key roles? Would Dukakis or Bush be better? Or is it a toss-up?

The nominees’ possible arts policies may be reflected in the context of the broader electoral campaign. Neither candidate, in policy statements on the arts, evidences any sort of real departure from other statements made on the campaign trail.

However, Bush may give more support for the arts in terms of federal dollars than the Reagan Administration had been willing to allocate in its first seven out of eight budgets. And Bush’s campaign, in response to questions from Calendar, indicated that the Vice President might want a different approach from the U.S. Information Agency on the matter of licensing documentary films for foreign distribution than President Reagan apparently has had.

As on other issues, for better or worse, Bush is saddled with Reagan Administration policies on the arts; Dukakis’ arts policies in Massachusetts are considered by arts leaders to be among the best in the nation.


While Bush paints broad brushstrokes of policy and some glittering generalities in several paragraphs on the arts in a statement issued by the Bush-Quayle campaign, Dukakis outlines a considerably more detailed program along with a some glittering generalities in a 3 1/2-page policy paper entitled “A Presidency That Celebrates the Arts.”

Attitudes also were gleaned from a survey conducted by the American Council of the Arts--much of Bush’s statement is a repeat of remarks in that survey--and from party platform statements.

The Republicans had a full page of platform statement on the arts and humanities under the overall heading of “Educating for the Future.” The sparest Democratic platform in 50 years simply lists “the arts and humanities” among items the nation needs to “expand support for.”

Bush and the GOP platform point to a sound economy and private giving as the way to enhance support for the arts. Dukakis, saying “achievements in the arts” are “inseparable” from economics, points to “my state of Massachusetts” where “our booming economy is due in part to our vibrant arts scene. . . .”


As President, Bush said in his statement, he would “continue policies that provide for freedom of expression and general economic prosperity. . . . We should also encourage partnerships between the public and private sectors to support artistic excellence and make it available to all Americans.”

The party platform pledges to “continue the Republican economic renaissance which has made possible a tremendous outpouring of support to the arts and humanities” and “oppose the politicization of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.”

On the key issue of federal spending for the arts, Bush says he “supports” the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the 23-year-old independent agency that gives matching grants to arts organizations and artists and contributes to state and local arts agencies. The platform pledges to “support” the two endowments as well as the Institute for Museum Services--the relatively tiny agency handling museum operating grants that the Reagan Administration for the first six years tried to abolish.

Dukakis would “bolster” the arts endowment and “end the annual assault on its budget. We now spend as much on military bands as we do on the NEA,” he said.


Currently the arts endowment receives $167.7 million, the humanities endowment receives $140.4 million and museum services receives $21.9 million. In fiscal 1989, beginning Oct. 1, NEA is expected to receive $169 million, NEH $153 million and IMS $22.3 million.

Frank Hodsoll and Lynne Cheney, who chair the arts and humanities endowments, respectively, and are close to Bush, indicate a Bush Administration would recommend funding at about fiscal 1989 levels. Whoever comes into office, added Cheney, will “be constrained by the fact that we are in fiscally stringent times.”

Kitty Dukakis, in a phone interview, declined to say how much a Dukakis Administration would allocate: “If he is fortunate enough to be elected, he will have a massive budget deficit . . . but he has been very concerned; I would hope that it could increase.”

As President, Dukakis said in his policy paper that he would establish “five-year American Creator grants” funded by “a new grant program” to “our best artists from all cultural traditions.”


Dukakis also pledges to bring the nonprofit National Arts Stabilization Fund “to all 50 states and join hands with corporate America to assist arts institutions”; to work with state and local governments “to ensure that arts planning is part of community planning”; to “work to provide affordable housing for artists, and adequate rehearsal and performance space,” and “encourage international arts exchanges to foster peace.”

In his arts paper, Dukakis attacked the U.S. Information Agency, which has “begun to label certain foreign documentary films propaganda in order to limit their distribution,” and he criticized the State Department for denying “entrance to prominent international artists and writers. Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the Nobel Prize for Literature, yet he has been forbidden to come to the United States,” he said.

In response, the Bush campaign said he is “strongly opposed to government censorship of films. . . . As President . . . he would, of course, insist that the (information) agency’s methods of certification be in accordance with the Constitution.” A spokesman for the campaign said the Vice President supports the State Department’s decision on any specific individual’s entrance into the country.

Dukakis and Bush have more similarities in arts policies than might be expected.


Both stress the importance of the arts as a requirement in education.

Both stand behind the Tax Reform Act of 1986, to the dismay of arts advocates who decry the loss of deductions to cultural institutions for non-itemizers and oppose requirements that those who donate gifts of appreciated property become subject to stringent rules of an alternative minimum tax.

Dukakis also promised in his policy paper to “strongly support arts programs that recognize our diversity as a culture.” Bush noted that “the arts provide for that diversity of expression that is peculiarly American, reflecting our many different origins. . . .”

Both candidates pay homage to the arts, not only for their economic value but also as a statement about our civilization, and say they will honor artists in their White House. Dukakis says “artists serve as part of our national conscience and cultural memory.” Bush says, “The arts tell us who we are and what we can be. They contain the signposts of civilization and provide the symbols and vocabularies of our national identity.”


“The arts community is optimistic whichever administration comes in,” said Anne Murphy, executive director of the American Arts Alliance, the nation’s arts advocacy organization in Washington. “Reagan’s legacy to the arts is exhausted.”

Most arts leaders breathe a sigh of relief, remembering the first Reagan budget, which sought to cut funding in half for the arts and humanities endowments, and the Administration’s repeated attempts to dismantle museum services. Each time Congress--led by Rep. Sidney R. Yates (D--Ill.), chairman of the subcommittee that handles the arts budget--prevented the cuts. Only this year, for fiscal 1989, did the Administration accept current funding levels.

However, Milton Rhodes, president of the American Council for the Arts, an arts services organization based in New York, said that in evaluating the nominees, “You have to get past the rhetoric into the depth of commitment in the past, and Dukakis has a splendid record” in Massachusetts.

As for Bush, Rhodes said, “I’m trying to be positive.”


He added that it’s “hard to find a positive in the (Reagan) Administration in the past few years, although “the emphasis by the endowment on arts eduction is on the right track.”

Hodsoll--citing figures from the American Assn. of Fund Raising Counsel, a New York-based organization that tracks private giving--said that private support for the arts and humanities doubled during the Reagan years from $3.2 billion in 1980 to $6.4 billion in 1987, or “19 times the endowment’s budget.” (Nathan Weber, editor of “Giving USA,” which gauges all charitable contributions for the association, pointed out that ever since 1955 “virtually every category of giving recipient--religion, education, health and so forth--keeps going up. Total giving in all categories,” he added, “is estimated at $93.7 billion.”)

Asked about private giving for the arts, Rhodes sighed: “It doesn’t feel that way on the streets. There has been a shifting or the appearance of a shifting of giving to more dire causes like AIDS, drug abuse and the homeless.”

As a governor for 10 years, Dukakis has more of a track record on the arts than Bush.


In 1966, as a state legislator, he sponsored the legislation for the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities. In 1988, with a state appropriation of $21.6 million, Massachusetts ranked second in the nation in per capita spending on the arts and second in overall dollars spent. While the state’s 1989 budget for the arts was trimmed back to $19.5 million, it is quite likely the state will still rank second in its arts budget.

Dukakis spearheaded a $35-million bond issue this spring for MASS MOCA, (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) to build the world’s largest museum of contemporary art on the site of 28 old electronic factory buildings in North Adams. North Adams is in an economically depressed area in the Berkshires in western Massachussetts.

According to Anne Hawley, executive director of the state arts council since 1977, Dukakis emphasizes new works and international exchange in arts policies without neglecting the nitty-gritty of good design for bridges and landscaped turnpike exit ramps.

Hawley said in a telephone interview from Boston that the council currently budgets about $1 million for new works and about $800,000 for importing contemporary artworks from all over the world.


“One of the things we’ve tried to do is make Massachusetts part of the international community of the arts,” Hawley added. “This state used to be so provincial, so parochial, and such a backwater in the arts. It used to be that audiences, and artists, fled to New York. Now there is a considerable body of work here.”

Beyond setting arts budgets and hosting glittering arts evenings at the White House, the next President will influence arts policy through the power of appointment.

Appointments will be made to the top posts at the arts and humanities endowments as well as to the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates television and radio licensing; the Federal Trade Commission, which deals with guidelines for TV and radio advertising, and the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, which distributes federal funds to radio and TV.

The President appoints the chairmen of the above--with the exception of the public broadcasting board, which elects its own chairman. By law, the number of commissioners and CPB board members have certain limits based on party affiliation. Appointments must be confirmed by the Senate.


Frank Hodsoll’s second four-year term as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts is up in November, 1989; Lynne Cheney’s first term as chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities is up in May, 1990. Both say they intend to serve their terms even if Michael Dukakis were elected.

Hodsoll had been a deputy to former Treasury secretary and Bush campaign chairman James Baker at the White House. Cheney, a former Washington magazine editor, is married to Rep. Richard Cheney (R-Wyo.), a leader in the GOP House minority, who is being mentioned as a possibility in a Bush Cabinet.

Should Dukakis win, he is expected to draw on some state associates for arts positions.

Anne Hawley, executive director of the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities, served as an adviser on his arts policy paper, and is also a close friend of the Dukakises, living four blocks away in Brookline.


Current and former state arts council board members who helped with his policy paper and might figure in a Dukakis Administration include cellist Yo Yo Ma, novelist Marge Piercy, who wrote the recent novel “Gone to Soldiers,” and Peggy Charren, founder of Action for Children’s Television.

Of course, the most influential person on the arts in a Dukakis Administration probably would be Kitty Dukakis. “He (Dukakis) and his wife did the final shaping” of the policy paper,” noted Hawley.

Kitty Dukakis noted that during her husband’s first term as governor in the mid-1970s, she testified before the Massachusetts legislature on behalf of the arts budget, although generally “I have worked behind the scenes.”

She also worked tellingly behind the scenes five years ago when New York Gov. Mario Cuomo met Dukakis in Boston for the first time. According to Michael Del Guidice, then Cuomo’s chief of staff, she successfully lobbied against proposed budget cuts in the New York State Council on the Arts, whose chairwoman is her namesake and friend Kitty Carlisle Hart.


“I was not a shy, shrinking violet,” she said.

Patricia L. Brown of the Times Editorial Library contributed to researching this article.