A freshman congressman from Tennessee, Republican Tim Burchett, introduced a bill on April 1 that aims to cut all funding for artworks in US embassies overseas.
Burchett had the idea for the line-item budget cut when he heard that over $80,000 was spent by the US State Department's Art in Embassies program for a sculpture by musician and artist Bob Dylan—during the most recent (and longest-ever) government shutdown.
The Art in Embassies program dates as far back as the 1950s, when John F. Kennedy established it as an official office of the State Department. This public-private partnership program is intended to advance "cultural diplomacy through artist exchanges and the presentation of works by outstanding American and international audiences around the world." With over 20,000 participating artists including Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and more, the program also sponsors an artist lecture series.
Burchett claims that the acquisition of the sculpture by Bob Dylan during the shutdown is "another government boondoggle," and that the State Department is "out of touch with reality. Money could be spent on something better, I think," he told Knox News.
The bill Burchett proposed wouldn't cut the Art in Embassies program altogether—just prohibit new taxpayer dollars from being used to install or display works in US embassies.
Supports of the program and critics of Burchett's proposed bills claim that program emphasized the US's "soft power" as a means of displaying the US's culture overseas.
In response to criticism, Burchett has urged the federal government to "get creative" and perhaps develop a loaner program with the Smithsonian. But as Artnet claims, "it's unclear how such temporary exhibitions would be funded" given the bill's restrictions.