The American Presidency Project
John T. Woolley & Gerhard Peters • Santa Barbara, California return to original document
• John F. Kennedy
Statement by the President Upon Establishing the Advisory Council on the Arts.
June 12, 1963

ESTABLISHMENT of an Advisory Council on the Arts has long seemed a natural step in fulfilling the Government's responsibility to the arts. I acknowledge the support of Members of the Congress in both Houses for this measure. I am hopeful that the Congress will give the Council a statutory base, but meanwhile, the setting up of the Council by executive action seems timely and advisable.

Accordingly, I am establishing the President's Advisory Council on the Arts within the Executive Office, to be composed of heads of Federal departments and agencies concerned with the arts and 30 private citizens who have played a prominent part in the arts. Private members will be drawn from civic and cultural leaders and others who are engaged professionally in some phase of the arts such as practicing artists, museum directors, producers, managers and union leaders. An Executive order is being issued today defining the scope and structure of the Council and I shall shortly announce the names of those private citizens I am asking to serve.

The creation of this Council means that for the first time the arts will have some formal government body which will be specifically concerned with all aspects of the arts and to which the artist and the arts institutions can present their views and bring their problems.

It is my hope that the Advisory Council will keep the state of the arts in this country under survey, and will make recommendations in regard to programs both public and private which can encourage their development. I trust that the Council will recommend such permanent procedures and programs as they consider necessary in this field.

I should like to summarize briefly my reasons for believing that the establishment of such a Council by the Federal Government is both appropriate and urgent.

Widespread public interest in the arts has not always been accompanied by adequate concern for the basic institutions of our cultural life. Increased attendance at museums, for example, has not eased long-standing financial problems but has actually increased the strains on these institutions as new services have been expected by the public. Of the thousand and more symphony orchestras of which we are justly proud as a nation, only a comparatively few have serious professional status and offer a season of sufficient length to provide a living wage to performers. The same is even more true of opera and dance groups. For some years American singers have been going in large numbers to find in Europe opportunities for employment which institutions at home cannot provide. The professional theater-despite the development of amateur groups-reaches only a limited part of the population. Indeed children are growing up who have never seen a professionally acted play.

A recent estimate by the Department of Labor presents a gloomy forecast of employment opportunities for the next decade. Although the demand for concerts and performances is bound to grow, there is no evidence that employment opportunities for the professional artist will increase. This is a situation which deprives Americans of the cultural opportunities they deserve and want, and discourages the development of creative talent.

I emphasize the importance of the professional artist because there is danger we may tend to accept the rich range of amateur activities which abound in our country as a substitute for the professional. Without the professional performer and the creative artist, the amateur spirit declines and the vast audience is only partially served.

Art is no exception to the rule in human affairs--that of needing a stable and ample financial and institutional base. As education needs schools so art needs museums, actors and playwrights need theaters, and composers and musicians need opera companies and orchestras.

The Government has a responsibility to see that this important aspect of our lives is not neglected. The concept of the public welfare should reflect cultural as well as physical values, aesthetic as well as economic considerations. We have agencies of the Government which are concerned with the welfare and advancement of science and technology, of education, recreation and health. We should now begin to give similar attention to the arts.

Specific problems and areas which I hope the Council will look into include the following:

I am particularly interested in the opportunities for young people to develop their gifts in the field of the arts and also to participate in an active cultural life. The Council will, I hope, examine the degree to which we are now meeting our responsibilities to young people in this area.

The Council should evaluate the many new forms and institutions which are developing. For example, the growth of State arts councils is significant, as is also the planning of community cultural centers in many cities and regions of the country.

The impact of various general governmental policies and programs on the arts is an area to which I hope the Council will give special attention. This includes such specific fields as tax laws, copyright laws, disposition of surplus property, public works and community development, public buildings, housing and urban renewal and others.

Public recognition of excellence in the arts is one effective way of giving encouragement. I am sure that the Council will want to give consideration to various possibilities in this field, including such forms of recognition as prizes, competitions, festivals, traveling tours and exhibitions.

Although the international cultural exchange program will not be a responsibility of the Council, the link between the vitality of our national cultural life and institutions and the success of our international programs is obvious. Our international programs are a direct reflection of our cultural achievements at home. I hope that the Council as it looks at the national cultural scene will consider its implications for our exchange programs.

The cultural life of the United States has at its best been varied, lively and decentralized. It has been supported--often with great generosity--by private patrons. I hope these characteristics will not change, but it seems well to assess how far the traditional sources of support meet the needs of the present and the near future. In giving form to this reassessment the President's Advisory Council on the Arts will be making a most important contribution to the national life.

Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Statement by the President Upon Establishing the Advisory Council on the Arts.", June 12, 1963. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
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