Government and creches

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Libby, your post about Philadelphia’s religious murals got me thinking about the role of government in art and about state-sponsored religious art in particular — like the pyramids, cathedrals, mosques, etc. which were built to uplift and to put people in their places (on their knees, preferably, thinking about the hereafter).

Of course in America we have the church-state separation doctrine and the government doesn’t build churches or commission work with angels in it, although it has produced some grand architecture for the people; and in more enlightened times, through the old Works Projects Administration (WPA), it commissioned lots of useful, beautiful secular art including posters like this one by Martin Weitzman.

Nowadays, government-funded public art tends to be boring, non-controversial and probably something you can sit on — although it’s still not religious, per se. Look at all the mediocre public art being produced in Philadelphia — bus kiosks on Chestnut Street, Vito Acconci benches at the airport. The murals, which are (mostly) not mediocre but which are (some of them) religious, seem to be the only public art that’s getting better instead of worse.

Here’s the question.

With faith-based initiatives and school prayer sanctioned by a born-again White House are the church-state borders blurring? Is religious art the new wave in America? Maybe the Mural Arts Program is ahead of the trend, and we’ll soon be seeing pictures of Jesus on the wall behind the president when he gives his next speech. Maybe the next NEA grants will be for Nativity creches. If the choice is state-sponsored religious art or state-sponsored boring art, I’d just as soon the state got out of the art business altogether.

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