Where do the candidates stand on the arts?

With Super Tuesday on the horizon, the Art and Place Blog is taking a little time to consider what the remaining U.S. presidential candidates think about the role of arts in this country. Much of what we report here is coming from the Arts Action Fund, a national arts advocacy organization devoted to advancing the arts in the US. Interested in learning more? Check out their website or click on the links below.


Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has an extensive track record of arts advocacy and support. During her time at the White House as First Lady, Ms. Clinton transformed the White House grounds into a Sculpture Garden, with temporary exhibitions of major contemporary American Sculpture. At the opening exhibition that featured his work, artist George Segal noted how impressed he was by Clinton, who he described as “articulate and well informed about the art being shown.” In 1996, in a speech for another Sculpture Garden opening, Clinton shared her reflections on art in culture:

“… it has the power to evoke in each of us a deeper understanding of our lives and of the world around us….”

During her time as the Secretary of State, Ms. Clinton advocated for art as a tool of international diplomacy. In an essay published in Vanity Fair on the Art in Embassies program, she stated:

Just think about what an exhibition of American and local artists means to someone across the world yearning to express herself or himself. Artists push boundaries and show what the human spirit is capable of, forming bonds of understanding with people they may never know.”

During her time as Secretary of State, the Arts in Embassies program showcased a diverse range of artists, including Cai Guo-Qiang, Jeff Koons, Shahzia Sikander, Kiki Smith, and Carrie Mae Weems.

During her time as a U.S. senator, she was also a member of the U.S. Senate Cultural Caucus. Ms. Clinton has also expressed her enduring support for arts education and for the National Endowment for the Arts. Find more on her arts positions here.

Bernie Sanders

As he highlights in a YouTube Video posted in September 2015, Bernie Sanders has long been a major supporter of the arts. During his tenure as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in the 1980s, one of his first acts was to establish the Mayor’s Art Council (MAC) with the mission of developing programs which would “make the arts available to all, regardless of social, economic or physical constraints.” Early MAC events included neighborhood festivals and free concert series.

If elected president, Sanders promises to be an “arts president.” Between 2004 and 2014, her earned an A+ score on all congressional arts report cards issued by the American for the Arts Action Fund. He had garnered the support of several cultural figures including artists Ron English and Shepard Fairey; and musicians David Crosby, Belinda Carslisle, Flea and Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Michael “Killer Mike” Render, and Bonnie Rait. Sanders has also taken a stance against the threat of arts censorship. In his YouTube video, for instance, he states:

“Art is speech, art is what life is about.”

You can find more on the candidate’s arts record here.


Ben Carson

With the exception of perhaps John Kasich, Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson is the most vocal supporter of the arts among the Republican primary field. Carson grew up a fan of music and the arts. In relation to his childhood in Detroit, Michigan, Carson describes visiting the Detroit Institute of Arts often enough to have memorized “every picture in there.” Throughout his youth, he also played a variety of musical instruments and even met his wife through their interest in classical music. Carson’s wife, Candy Carson, studied music as a student at Yale (along with medicine and psychology) and performs in community groups and in local hospitals in Baltimore, Maryland. Classical music stayed an important part of his life, even as Carson went on to become a world-famous surgeon. Carson says he played classical music during his surgeries and quizzed his resident surgeons on the names of the pieces and composers. Symbolic of the significant role the arts have ostensibly played in his life, Carson announced his Presidential Campaign at the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts in Detroit, Michigan, which featured several musical performances.

As far as policy positions with respect to the arts, Carson has given enthusiastic statements of support for the inclusion of arts in public education and the continuing presence of the National Endowment for the Arts. However, given his lack of political experience and his campaign’s dearth of detailed plans, no one knows how Carson’s love of the arts would manifest itself in public policy if he were to become President.

Ted Cruz

During his time in office as a U.S. senator, Ted Cruz has voted against funding the NEA. He has no record of supporting cultural initiatives. He has not received a a thumbs up in the Arts Action Fund 2014 Congressional Arts Report Card. He has also indicated that if he becomes president, he plans to eliminate the NEA. His only ties to the arts of note? His top foreign policy adviser, Victoria C. Gardner Coates, is an art historian who has written a book on democracy in art. More on his views can be found here.

John Kasich

Evidence shows that as governor of the State of Ohio, John Kasich has been a strong supporter of public funding for the arts, at least on the state level. Examples of his support include his increasing of the Ohio Arts Council budget almost immediately after assuming his position as governor. Kasich also approved the allocation of state funds in 2014 for renovations to the Dayton Art Institute to celebrate its centennial year, upcoming in 2019. Most recently, Kasich signed a 2016-2017 budget that will give the Ohio Arts Council the largest increase in funding in its 50 year history. Since Kasich has been governor, the Ohio Arts Council has seen its annual funding from the Ohio State government increase from $9.4 million in 2011 to $28.9 million for the projected 2016-17 budget.

It is not clear whether Kasich’s advocacy for public funding for the arts includes federal funding. When asked about what he would do with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) if elected president, Kasich provided no definitive answers. It is possible that his response may signal a strategy to avoid angering conservative voters who support doing away with the NEA. However, it is far from certain where his true position lies on federal support for the arts.

Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio has said very little about the arts throughout his political career, much less whether or not the government has a role in supporting them. Rubio has stayed true to his socially conservative identity by recently critiquing popular culture (in particular, Hollywood) for not being family-friendly enough. While he has revealed little about his opinions about the arts either through public statements or his voting record (the website www.votesmart.org shows that Rubio has neither supported nor opposed any arts-related bills), many of the people in his life have significant ties to the fine arts. For example, he met his wife, Jeanette, while she was a student at Florida’s International Fine Arts College, which is now known as Miami International University of Art & Design. The prominent arts philanthropist and collector Norman Braman helped nurture Rubio’s political career in Florida back when he was running to serve in Florida’s House of Representatives.

Rubio’s current campaign for President of the United States has drawn the support of at least two more billionaires and significant contributors to the arts: Ken Griffin and Larry Ellison. Whether this does indeed translate to policy positions that support public funding for the arts remains to be seen. Most likely, and in keeping with a philosophy of a limited federal government role in social affairs, Rubio and his political supporters would favor policy positions that leave the provision of arts and culture to private philanthropy instead of the government. However, this is conjecture.

Donald Trump

Because he has no political record and has spoken little on the subject during the campaign, it is difficult to gauge how the arts would fare in a Donald Trump presidency. His work experience as a reality TV star and guest appearances on such films as Zoolander and Home Alone 2 suggest he has more interest in the entertainment industry than other sectors of the arts. Trump has said that he “flirted” with going to film school at the University of Southern California before deciding that real estate was his “calling.” There’s evidence online of a lapsed trademark application for  “Trump Art Collection,” a business that would apparently have involved selling art, art reproductions, and art related products online.

According to the Arts Action Fund, Trump has donated a small amount of his money, approximately $465,000,  to arts-affiliated organizations in New York between 1994 and 2010.


This post was the collaboration of Bryna Campbell, PhD, and Justin Meyer, PhD. 

Feature image is public domain. 


2 thoughts on “Where do the candidates stand on the arts?

  1. I am impressed by your research, because these facts are extremely important to know as I go forward with my comments. While I personally believe that this is an important issue, I can’t find anything in your comments to convince the average person that this matters. So I will offer my own view, instead. Every human society or culture, throughout history and prehistory has expressed itself, in some way through the arts–petroglyphs, paintings, music and dance, to name a few. These are the things that continually define humanity–NOT opposable thumbs, which may be helpful for creating art, but not ultimately necessary, since raccoons also have opposable thumbs and don’t seem to have any creative instincts. So when someone denies or derides the arts as useless, that person is also virtually denying any connection to humanity.


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