Art & Culture

Philadelphia Orchestra music director calls on Biden administration to increase support for the arts

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage arts and culture institutions across the country, Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin is pleading with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for a lifeline during what he described as a “tumultuous” period for the industry.

In an open letter posted to social media this week, Nézet-Séguin called on the new administration to prioritize the arts “for the benefit of the country.” 

“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,” Nézet-Séguin wrote.

“For us artists and citizens working in the arts, the impact has been catastrophic,” he continued. “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.”

Nézet-Séguin noted that support for the arts had declined before the pandemic began last March. He cited former President Donald Trump’s call for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities in his 2021 budget, as well as the disbandment of the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities in 2017.

“Artists need financial support to continue to create; the arts institutions of America need it to survive,” Nézet-Séguin wrote. “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 with government intervention.”

Nézet-Séguin argued that the arts “can assist with healing, with self-expression, and with uniting diverse voices,” and foster a bright future for the country.

“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,” Nézet-Séguin wrote. “The arts are a powerful democratizing force for good — for everybody.”

One step to further achieving support for the arts would be through the establishment of a culture-centric cabinet position, Nézet-Séguin wrote. Other advocates in the arts industry have made similar pleas to the Biden administration.

“In order to progress, to elevate the arts, we need a voice at the table that will be heard,” Nézet-Séguin wrote.

Remaining hopeful, Nézet-Séguin said that the arrival of a new administration “could not come at a more opportune time.”

“With these acts of leadership, please continue to showcase the great art and artists of this country,” Nézet-Séguin wrote. “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.”

You can read Nézet-Séguin’s letter to Biden and Harris below.

The Philadelphia Orchestra has not been immune to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The orchestra has been forced to conduct online-only performances with no audience in attendance due to the public health crisis.