For years the right has said that government has no business subsidizing art and for that same amount of time the left has claimed that government support is necessary to keep the arts alive. Of course some are of us are of the opinion that if “art” is sufficiently good, the private sector will gladly support it.
But what I assume both sides would agree on is that government support of the arts shouldn’t be abused and turned into government propaganda. Yet:
“…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.”
The quote comes from Patrick Courrielche at Big Hollywood and his post there documents his experience on the call.
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.
Given the tone of the invitation, and the apparent concerns it raised, Courrielche called in. His concerns were validated:
The people running the conference call and rallying the group to get active on these issues were Yosi Sergant, the Director of Communications for the National Endowment for the Arts; Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement; Nell Abernathy, Director of Outreach for United We Serve; Thomas Bates, Vice President of Civic Engagement for Rock the Vote; and Michael Skolnik, Political Director for Russell Simmons.
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.
Hard to argue, given this report, that the NEA isn’t now involved in a political role. Courrielche wasn’t the only one who was concerned by what he heard. Lee Rosenbaum was “creeped out” by the call she participated in as well. She validates Courrielche’s report and conclusions. Courrielche writes a followup post here.
The point, of course, is it isn’t beyond any politician, administration or government to use and abuse any program for its benefit. When you have a community organizer in the Oval Office, it appears they get abused is record time – nd it is clear, at least to me, that in this case the plan is to use the NEA for propaganda and political gain. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a perfect reason to give the NEA the political death penalty and, finally and forever, defund it.
UPDATE – This isn’t the first time we’ve touched on this subject either. MichaelW covered it back on August 27th when the first conference call was held. Since then there’s been a second (that’s the call Lee Rosenbaum talks about) in which the NEA and White House try a few tricks to give them “plausible deniability” against charges of collusion in a program to get NEA artists to create propaganda for the administration.