02/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama and the Arts

Lost in the inaugural hoopla, and those little problems that Obama's now responsible for fixing, is the fact that we now have a president who cites Dylan, Coltrane, Springsteen and Wilco as some of his favorite musicians. With this kind of taste, you'd think that our president is crafting policy in one of the hipster dive bars of Brooklyn or San Francisco. I mean, how cool can this guy be?

When it came to his campaign, the support ranged from huge acts in arenas down to local acts in the 'burbs. And we're not talking the kind of cookie-cutter country acts who supported Bush and McCain, but rather artists with credibility such as Arcade Fire, Common and Jenny Lewis. Over the course of his two-year run to the White House, I don't think I attended a concert without some sign of Obama throughout the band's set. Whether it was a bassist wearing a tight Obama tee, a few quips in between songs or a banner the size of Fenway's green monster, Obama was everywhere.

We're now hearing a growing chorus, led by legendary music-icon Quincy Jones, calling for a Secretary of the Arts. When I first heard this idea I chuckled. I mean, when you consider the economy, the wars, health care, the environment and the near endless array of challenges facing the Obama administration, I can't imagine our government finding even a second to consider such a position.

Then I remembered the role musicians, actors, writers and other artists played not just in helping to craft and deliver Obama's vision to millions of suddenly hungry voters, but I considered the relentless blows that the arts have taken over the past decade or so. Music sales have plummeted while being led by an old guard of industry execs who have refused to adapt. Book publishers are laying off staff left and right and the local bookstore is nearly a thing of the past. The film industry is probably in the best position, but aside from this year, it's usually the big-budget watered-down mindless garbage that keeps the industry moving along.

Yes, most industries are adapting and evolving during these uncertain times, but the arts have been in flux for years and years, long preceding Bush and Wall Street's dismantling of the economy. In order to keep the arts alive, the corporations that have the largest shares of the overall pie have turned away from creativity and development and supported the quickest hit song, the movie with the grandest explosions and the book whose words summoned the least amount of curiosity.

It's certainly possible that somewhere out there is a voice as powerful as Sam Cooke, a mind as deep as Faulkner and a vision as magnificent as Kubrick. But times are different, and without the support, encouragement and thoughtful development of folks who see more than just dollars as the end all, those voices may remain quiet, those words may never be shared and those screens may be blank.

Barack Obama is clearly a man of the arts, possibly more so than any other president in our history. In addition to the musicians mentioned above, he's found inspiration and meaning in the writings of Melville and Morrison and films such as The Godfather and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. And with the arts in such a state of disarray, perhaps Quincy's right. If we don't collectively find ways to nurture and support the arts, the downward spiral of the past decade or so will only continue. And similar to the many pressing issues of the day, if we allow this to happen, the consequences could be devastating.