Arts Czar? Nyet

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Or at least not yet. That’s the impression I take away from an interesting passage in Robin Pogrebin’s piece in today’s New York Times about the things that arts groups hope the new administration will do for them. Bill Ivey, the former head of the National Endowment for the Arts who is Barack Obama’s transition leader on arts issues, told Pogrebin that the president “is considering the establishment of an arts-and-culture portfolio within the White House’s Domestic Policy Council.”

If that’s so, it doesn’t sound like Obama is gearing up to create the cabinet level Secretary of the Arts that some people have been calling for. The Domestic Policy Council is the coordinating body for issues like health care, education and immigration. Culture has never really been on its radar screen. And Melody Barnes, the new DPC director, is a former chief counsel to Sen. Ted Kennedy and policy director at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank headed by Obama transition director John Podesta. Which is another way of saying her priorities are things like health care reform and education.

But Obama has been farming out responsibility for big chunks of domestic policy to quasi-independent pods outside the DPC. He tapped incoming Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Daschle to head the White House office of health care reform and be “lead architect” of his eventual health plan. He made former EPA -director Carol Browner “energy czar”. So it’s not clear how much domestic policy will be made at the White House domestic policy shop. In which case, Melody Barnes might have plenty of time to take calls from her culture point-person, if there is one.

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