PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT— U.S. Secretary of Arts and Culture, October 5, 2013, Syracuse, N.Y.

In this era of broken systems—health care, energy, education, economy—citizens must imagine and create better alternatives that are aligned with humane values and needs. To build this capacity for co-creation, it is imperative that we provide universal access to empowering creative experiences that build empathy and social imagination. We must encourage creative risk-taking.

You have shown us the way.

You’ve danced, sung, painted, performed, and celebrated. You’ve turned abandoned warehouses into thriving cultural centers, co-created public artworks that revitalize entire neighborhoods, built pop-up libraries and taken to the streets with border-defying cultural festivals. You’ve shown the power of community collaboration in making more just, sustainable, and joyful places to live.

You’ve allowed us to glimpse a future that honors creative expression and cultural belonging. By making something beautiful out of very little, you have shown just how much we’ve been missing by failing to invest in our stories, our rituals, our capacity to collaborate, and our bursting creative souls.

For too long, we’ve believed that everything that counts can be counted. We have ignored the vital role that arts and culture play in advancing equity, innovation, and democracy. For this, I offer an apology. And I also offer an invitation. Today, we start to close the gap. Today, it is my great pleasure and honor to announce the launch of the United States Department of Arts and Culture.

This new Department will cultivate the public interest in art and culture and catalyze art and culture in the public interest. It holds the following truths to be self-evident:

1. Culture is a human right. As expressed in the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community.” It is our sacred duty to remove impediments to the exercise of this right and to ensure that the means to exercise this right are available to all.

2. Culture is created by everyone. The art, customs, creative expressions, and social fabric of every community and heritage contribute to the vibrancy and dynamism of our common culture. Our cultural institutions and policies should reflect this, rather than privileging favorites.

3. Cultural diversity is a social good and the wellspring of free expression. Its support and protection require equitable distribution of public resources, particularly to correct past injustices and balance an excess of commercialization.

4. Culture is the sum total of public, private, individual, and collective action. We must create a healthy arts ecology in which no sector dominates or controls cultural expression or access to cultural resources.

5. The work of artists is a powerful resource for community development, education, health care, protection of our commonwealth, and other democratic public purposes. Indeed, artists’ skills of observation, improvisation, innovation, resourcefulness, and creativity enhance all human activity. We advocate complete integration of arts-based learning in public and private education at all levels. We advocate public service employment for artists and other creative workers as a way to accomplish social good, address unemployment, and strengthen social fabric. We support artists who place their gifts at the service of community, equity, and social change.

Meanwhile, anyone can step up as a Citizen Artist, calling on the indispensable tools of human aliveness—song, dance, story, ritual, the sharing of food around a central fire—to realign our social, economic, political, and environmental systems with justice and sustainability. In shared spaces of creation, exchange, and reflection we reinforce our belonging to a larger community, to our roots, and to the future we make. We widen our circle of care and enable our collective survival and thriving.

Today, I invite you to join this new people-powered Department—to take a stand for cultural democracy by setting up your own Field Office and mobilizing other Citizen Artists in making creativity-based social change a community norm. Together, we launch the USDAC, based on the truth that culture is our most powerful and underused resource for social change. Together, we spark a movement dedicated to cultivating equity, empathy, and social transformation through creative cultural action. Join us in deploying the resilience, resourcefulness, and imagination of artists at their best. Cultural Agent, the USDAC wants you! Visit usdac.us to sign up.