Title: Nixon, NASA, And How The Federal Government Got Design
Context: Remember the time when the federal government placed a premium on the power of design? Why are you laughing?
Synopsis: President Ronald Reagan used to stump with an old joke pointing out that the scariest thing a citizen could ever hear were the words “I’m from the government. And I’m here to help.” He would invariably say this right before he approved shipment of $500 million dollars of illegal arms to death squads in Nicaragua. Good times. Well, this institutional distrust of governmental efficacy was not always the case. And even more surprisingly, was not always the case when it came to the traditionally non-Conservative (big “C”) fields of art and design. And totally shockingly, was not the case for one of Reagan’s Republican predecessors: Richard Millhouse Nixon (you might know him from such political scandals as Watergate and sweating profusely while standing next to JFK while on TV). Now to be fair, Nixon did have a craven political agenda for his embrace of art and design as a tool to address some of American society’s problems, but he did so nonetheless. While our contemporary political class loves to use governmental support of the arts as a prime example of regulatory overreach, they cannot erase the legacy that strong design has had on our institutions in days past. Too bad Reagan never amended his bon mot for accuracy: “I’m from the government. And I’m here to help…make your design AWESOME!”
Best Bit: “The robustly funded NEA connected government agencies to designers and architects, which brought about projects that enriched cities across the country and internal design changes that made government operations more efficient.”