Happy National Arts and Humanities Month!

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Johns, Three Flags
Jasper Johns, Three Flags, 1958

Time’s awasting. We’re half way through National Arts and Humanities Month, and what do you have to show for it?

First recognized in 1993, National Arts and Humanities Month pops back up each October with an inspirational proclamation by the president. But what the president never mentions is how hard it is to find time to decorate the house, buy and trim the National Arts and Humanities Month tree or find all the traditional National Arts and Humanities Month gifts for the kids. We’re not all Martha Stewart, Mr. President! And every year the department stores set up their National Arts and Humanities Month displays earlier and earlier. It seems like the minute Dance Appreciation Month (July) is over, it’s already National Arts and Humanities Month Season.

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President Obama’s proclamation, released on October 1, starts with Francis Scott Key writing The Star-Spangled Banner and then waxes grandiose about the role of the arts and humanities in American culture: “Throughout our history, the arts and humanities have given us comfort and confidence, drawn us together, and called on us to strive for a more perfect Union. This month, we celebrate our Nation’s rich artistic heritage.” Personally, I wouldn’t have gone with The Star-Spangled Banner to get everyone fired up about that sentiment, but it’s not my proclamation.

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Of course, this would be exciting news if the concept of commemorative months weren’t so utterly debased. October is pretty crowded: Sure, it’s National Book Month, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and LGBT History Month, but it’s also Let’s Talk Month (yeah, I don’t know, either), Pastor Appreciation Month, National CyberSecurity Month and National Family Sexuality Education Month. You don’t say! Clearly, none of these has the gravitas of a Movember or a National 5 (Servings of Fruits or Veggies) a Day Month, but I get it, the President is doing what he can.

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Hammons Flag
David Hammons
African-American Flag, 1990

Still, though, the proclamation manages to make a smart and effective case for the humanities:

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Artistic expression and memorable ideas can resonate with us, challenge us, and teach us important lessons about ourselves and each other. At their best, great works of literature, theater, dance, fine art, and music reflect something common in all of us. They open dialogues between cultures and raise poignant questions about our world. They are also vital components of our children’s education and our national growth — not only teaching our youth to observe closely, interpret creatively, and think critically, but also bringing new cultural experiences to our communities and helping drive economic progress.

It’s turns a little campaign-y, but it is election season and, well, Republicans are notoriously hostile to the arts and humanities. Compare the president’s proclamation: “[…] my Administration is committed to strengthening arts and humanities programs in schools and communities across our Nation,” to Mitt Romney’s plan to “tackle spending, dept”: “Enact deep reductions in the subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, [and] the Corporation for Public Broadcasting […].” I can only imagine that President Romney’s National Arts and Humanities Month proclamation next October will be a little awkward.

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Americans for the Arts coordinates National Arts and Humanities Month, and its website has a lot of information about understanding and celebrating the arts and humanities’ very special holiday.

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President Obama’s whole 2012 proclamation:

NATIONAL ARTS AND HUMANITIES MONTH, 2012

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BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

After the bombing of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, a young lawyer named Francis Scott Key reached for his pen and captured the resilience of the American people. His poem became our National Anthem, and almost two centuries later, it continues to speak to the American spirit just as it did on that September day so long ago. Throughout our history, the arts and humanities have given us comfort and confidence, drawn us together, and called on us to strive for a more perfect Union. This month, we celebrate our Nation’s rich artistic heritage.

Artistic expression and memorable ideas can resonate with us, challenge us, and teach us important lessons about ourselves and each other. At their best, great works of literature, theater, dance, fine art, and music reflect something common in all of us. They open dialogues between cultures and raise poignant questions about our world. They are also vital components of our children’s education and our national growth — not only teaching our youth to observe closely, interpret creatively, and think critically, but also bringing new cultural experiences to our communities and helping drive economic progress. That is why my Administration is committed to strengthening arts and humanities programs in schools and communities across our Nation.

When children read their first book, pick up their first instrument, or perform in their first play, they demonstrate the power of the arts to ignite wonder and imagination. This month, let us pledge to invest in America’s next generation by ensuring our children have the opportunity to participate in and enjoy the arts and humanities. If we give them the tools to create and innovate, they will do their part to disrupt our views, challenge our perceptions, and stir us to be our best selves.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 2012 as National Arts and Humanities Month. I call upon the people of the United States to join together in observing this month with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs to celebrate the arts and the humanities in America.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.

BARACK OBAMA