Influenced by two decades of debate inside and outside the academy about the relationship among the arts, politics, and public policy, the essays collected in The Arts of Democracy represent the coming of age of one of the liveliest fields in contemporary academic life. Written by some of the most respected and accomplished scholars working in their fields, this volume illuminates the often contradictory impulses that have shaped the historical intersection of the arts, public culture, and the state in modern America, beginning with an art market at the turn of the twentieth century that supported a notion of civic identity, through the mid-century era of state-sponsored art, to the postmodern disconnect between artistic and civic languages.

Topics range from Norman Rockwell as public artist and the creation of the NEA visual arts program to State Department–sponsored jazz tours in the mid-twentieth century, and religious displays in the twenty-first century. Taken together, the essays in The Arts of Democracy pave the way for future study in the complex and interwoven histories of artistic expression, values, ideology, statecraft, and democratic aspiration.

Casey N. Blake is Professor of History and American Studies at Columbia University.


Introduction: Public Culture Reconsidered

Part I: Commercial Culture as Public Culture
1. Festival Culture, American Style
Neil Harris
2. Norman Rockwell, Public Artist
Michele H. Bogart

Part II: Cultural Policy and the State
3. Culture and the State in America
Michael Kammen
4. The Happy Few—en Masse: Franco-American Comparisons in Cultural Democratization
Vera L. Zolberg
5. Exporting America: The U.S. Propaganda Offensive, 1945–1959
Laura A. Belmonte
6. The Goodwill Ambassador: Duke Ellington and Black Worldliness
Penny M. Von Eschen
7. A Modernist Vision: The Origins and Early Years of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Visual Arts Program
Donna M. Binkiewicz
8. Between Civics and Politics: The Modernist Moment in Federal Public Art
Casey Nelson Blake

Part III The Arts and Civic Culture after Modernism
9. The Swirl of Image and Sound: On the Latest Version of Antirealism
Kenneth Cmiel
10. Public Attitudes toward Cultural Authority and Cultural Diversity in Higher Education and the Arts
Paul DiMaggio and Bethany Bryson
11. “Subtle, Intangible, and Non-Quantifiable”: Aesthetics, Law, and Speech in Public Space
Leslie Prosterman
12. The Public Display of Religion
Sally M. Promey


The Arts of Democracy is a wonderful collection that addresses a set of vitally important topics. The essays range widely and imaginatively, offering nuanced considerations of the relationship between art, public culture, and the state. The book will be a must-read not only among historians and art historians, but also among arts administrators, foundation officers, and public officials.”—Daniel Horowitz, author of Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique

“A comprehensive and profound investigation into the place and role of the public arts in culture.”—Journal of American Culture

“An ambitious, well-conceived collection of essays. … The essays move with precision between artists and agencies and the Cold War policies that shaped both in national and international contexts. Roughly, the narrative arc of the essays contends that the embrace by Cold War-inspired agencies of abstraction and modernism (and jazz) as evidence of American freedom from Soviet-style tyranny produced a singular moment for U.S. public culture that eventually gave way to hostility from the Left and from the Right that has resulted in a desire for a return to ‘tradition’ in various forms.”—Journal of American History