Free Markets, Free People
This is … disturbing:
“… I was invited by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to take part in a conference call that invited a group of rising artist and art community luminaries “to help lay a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda – health care, energy and environment, safety and security, education, community renewal.”
Now admittedly, I’m a skeptic of BIG government. In my view, power tends to overreach whenever given the opportunity. It’s a law of human nature that has very few exceptions. That said, it felt to me that by providing issues as a cynosure for inspiration to a handpicked arts group – a group that played a key role in the President’s election as mentioned throughout the conference call – the National Endowment for the Arts was steering the art community toward creating art on the very issues that are currently under contentious national debate; those being health care reform and cap-and-trade legislation. Could the National Endowment for the Arts be looking to the art community to create an environment amenable to the administration’s positions?”
Hmmm. It may be a bit of a stretch, but I’ll go with “abso-freak’n-lutely” as my answer.
Oh, wait. Was that a rhetorical question?
I learned after the conference call that there were approximately 75 people participating, including many well respected street-artists, filmmakers, art galleries, music venues, musicians and music producers, writers, poets, actors, independent media outlets, marketers, and various other professionals from the creative community … Backed by the full weight of President Barack Obama’s call to service and the institutional weight of the NEA, the conference call was billed as an opportunity for those in the art community to inspire service in four key categories, and at the top of the list were “health care” and “energy and environment.” The service was to be attached to the President’s United We Serve campaign, a nationwide federal initiative to make service a way of life for all Americans.
We were encouraged to bring the same sense of enthusiasm to these “focus areas” as we had brought to Obama’s presidential campaign, and we were encouraged to create art and art initiatives that brought awareness to these issues. Throughout the conversation, we were reminded of our ability as artists and art professionals to “shape the lives” of those around us. The now famous Obama “Hope” poster, created by artist Shepard Fairey and promoted by many of those on the phone call, and will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” song and music video were presented as shining examples of our group’s clear role in the election.
Obama has a strong arts agenda, we were told, and has been very supportive of both using and supporting the arts in creative ways to talk about the issues facing the country. We were “selected for a reason,” they told us. We had played a key role in the election and now Obama was putting out the call of service to help create change. We knew “how to make a stink,” and were encouraged to do so.
Erm, yes, I guess that was a rhetorical question.
The NEA is the nation’s largest annual funder of the arts. That is right, the largest funder of the arts in the nation – a fact that I’m sure was not lost on those that were on the call, including myself. One of the NEA’s major functions is providing grants to artists and arts organizations. The NEA has also historically shown the ability to attract “matching funds” for the art projects and foundations that they select. So we have the nation’s largest arts funder, which is a federal agency staffed by the administration, with those that they potentially fund together on a conference call discussing taking action on issues under vigorous national debate. Does there appear to be any potential for conflict here?
Assuming that I can answer that one, I’d say the potential for conflict is rather high. If an entire industry is almost entirely supported by the government then, when that benefactor starts making “suggestions” about how that industry should behave, you can bet that the industry will respond. In this case, propaganda posters, statues, billboards and movies would be the expected outcome. In the American car business, increased hybrid car production is the most likely result of government intervention (that is why Fiat was brought in after all).
So what do you think will happen when the federal government is in charge of paying for health care? If the government were to “suggest” that certain medical procedures should be favored, or that certain patients should receive care before others, do you suppose that the medical industry will have much leverage to resist? And suppose that new reforms are proposed after passage of whatever bill is frankensteined together this Fall. If the government is going to be paying most of the bills, who do you think the insurance companies, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, et al. will be paying more attention to when the Obama administration and its minions come calling? Patients or the government?
That is a rhetorical question, because I already know the answer.