Dear Mr. President and Madam Vice President:
Congratulations on your election to the Presidency and Vice Presidency of the United States! It may be a surprise to hear from a Canadian citizen so early on in your tenure, but as the music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra and The Metropolitan Opera, two of the country’s greatest cultural institutions, I am a proud artistic citizen of the United States of America.
The beginning of your presidency could not come at a more opportune time. Like many industries, the arts and culture sector of the United States has suffered greatly over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and vital government support for the arts has been late and insufficient to date. Throughout this crisis cultural institutions large and small, in every corner of the country, have had to cancel years of planning, shut down concert halls, opera houses, theaters, museums and artistic spaces, and wait patiently for help. For us artists and for citizens working in the arts, the impact has been catastrophic. We have experienced the loss of income, jobs, and livelihoods. We have lost so many colleagues that make up the diverse fabric of the American artistic voice. We have lost the driving force in our lives: making music, theater, creating art for live audiences.
Now, as you take office, we finally feel a sense of HOPE. During the last four years, the arts were effectively dismissed, the NEA and NEH were deemed “wasteful”, and the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities (PCAH) was disbanded. Mr. President, it’s clear you understand the value of the arts. As you said, “The future, who we are, lies in the arts. It’s the expression of our soul.” And Madam Vice President, your statement that “the arts give people an outlet to view the world differently” could not be more accurate. For these reasons, I urge your administration to prioritize the arts for the benefit of this country, for all Americans.
Your presidency begins in the midst of a tumultuous time. The arts can assist with healing, with self-expression, and with uniting diverse voices. You both speak of unifying this country, of teaching people how to access their emotions, and how viewing the world differently will empower individuals to come together. Our future leaders will be more compassionate, more self-assured, and better members of society with the arts as a fundamental part of their lives. The arts are a powerful democratizing force for good — for everybody.
Of course, in order for the arts and culture sector to survive and flourish after a year and more of economic devastation, I urge your administration to take immediate action. Artists need financial support to continue to create; the arts institutions of America need it to survive. While the vaccine is now here, and we can finally start to see the end of the pandemic, the financial implications will last for years without meaningful government intervention.
Finally, I ask that you consider appointing a cabinet level champion dedicated to arts and culture. In order to progress, to elevate the arts, we need a voice at the table that will be heard.
With these acts of leadership, please continue to showcase the great art and artists of this country. Giving public platforms for music and art, with the endorsement of the President, the Vice President, and the government, has significant value beyond what private institutions provide — the arts should have that vital, moral authority that comes with pronounced federal support. Historically, government-backed programs have introduced generations to the arts, have shown the citizens of this country that the arts are a public concern, a profound public benefit, and are among our country’s greatest exports.
I wish you luck, health, and great success as you begin your first term. My fervent wish is for the arts to thrive under your leadership. I stand ready to help you in any way.
With admiration and hope, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, C.C.; O.Q.; D.H.C. Music Director, The Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director, The Metropolitan Opera Directeur artistique, Orchestre Métropolitain, Montréal