Tim Daly to Congress: Make Arts a Priority

“It’s impossible to talk about the arts as if they’re a luxury item that we don’t really need.”

Last Updated: March 31, 2009 @ 7:28 PM

Emmy-nominated actor Tim Daly is best known for his roles on “Private Practice” and “Wings.” But even more important is his real-life crusade for arts awareness as co-president of the Creative Coalition. TheWrap spoke with Daly Thursday after he testified before the House Education and Labor Committee about the powerful impact that the entertainment and arts industries have on the nation’s economy.

What questions did they ask you?
One was sort of a random question about why composers aren’t listed higher in movie credits. I guess the guy really liked the music in some movie and thought the composer didn’t get a fair shake.

A woman asked me why there weren’t more women listed in movie credits. I thought that was a good question. Certainly from an acting point of view, men have sort of dominated the characters in plays from the beginning. I work on a show that is dominated by women, so that sort of answers that for me.

Did you expect them to ask you such specific questions?
People are fascinated about mass entertainment and how it works. What I really wanted to get across was this horrible perception problem that those of us who work in the arts have in the public and political sector.
 
People seem to be fascinated with Hollywood, but you say Americans in general don’t view the arts and artists in a positive light.

I was listening to NPR the other day, and an interviewer asked some Wall Street guy to give an example of “pork” in President Obama’s stimulus package. And the guy went right to the $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts.

I was so pissed off. I thought, “You scumbag!” The perception is that artists are the people we see in the tabloids — a bunch of babies who run around wasting money. That’s just not the case.

When we talk about our economy, it’s impossible to talk about the arts as if they’re a luxury item that we don’t really need. Art is around us every day. One example I used was the iPod. All of that innovation, the technology and manufacturing of that product exists because people want music in their daily lives. Without art, there’s no iPod.

The President rarely mentions the arts — not even during his recent town hall meeting in L.A. Does he do enough to support the arts industries? 
Obama has a wonderful arts policy. I’ve read it; it’s on his website. But it’s on the third or fourth page under “other issues.” What I’m talking about is moving the arts up to the front page — making it part of the main course and not dessert. Let’s not forget that entertainment is the second largest export of the United States.

You also talked about increasing arts education in schools.
We’re approaching a one-third national high-school drop-out rate. That’s tragic. Within a generation, we could have 100 million undereducated people walking around in this country.

Statistics show that if you have a rigorous curriculum of arts in high school, you’re way more likely to graduate. The Teacher of the Year last year taught science using dance and music. All of this talk about needing math and science is fine, but the way to get kids to stay in school is to train the whole mind.

I’m not suggesting that we create more artists by teaching arts in schools. I’m saying that our engineers will be better and more innovative if they study the arts. Politicians will be smarter if they study the arts.

What do you hope will come from your testimony today?

It’s not something that I think is going to be solved with one trip to the Hill. I think it’s something we’re going to have to hammer at for a long time. Getting the arts to be seen as an integral part of our society is something that we need to keep going on. And we will.

What’s next for the Creative Collation?

The Creative Collation and I produced a documentary directed by Barry Levinson called “PoliWood,” which is going to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s about our adventures at the conventions leading up to the inauguration and the relationship between celebrities and political causes. It’s a wonderful, very thought-provoking film.

I think we’ll also probably do Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, which is usually around the time of the White House Correspondents Dinner.