There's been a big scandal brewing over a recent conference call co-hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts that just smacks of partisan propaganda no matter how you slice it. Here's an overview:
On August 25th 2009, Big Hollywood’s Patrick Courrielche broke the story of a conference call he attended with other “rising artist and art community luminaries:Ugh. That doesn't sound good. Read on:On Thursday August 6th, I was invited by the National Endowment for the Arts to attend a conference call scheduled for Monday August 10th hosted by the NEA, the White House Office of Public Engagement, and United We Serve. The call would include “a group of artists, producers, promoters, organizers, influencers, marketers, taste-makers, leaders or just plain cool people to join together and work together to promote a more civically engaged America and celebrate how the arts can be used for a positive change!”The email invite came directly from Yosi Sergant, then-Director of Communications at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and it advised this hand-picked group that the call was about laying “a new foundation for growth, focusing on core areas of the recovery agenda – health care, energy and environment, safety and security, education, community renewal.”
Courrielche describes the call this way:And here's the worst part, according to the Washington Times: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.Within 48 hours of this phone call, 21 arts organizations endorsed President Obama’s health-care reform plan. Within days, Rock the Vote started an all out blitz that included a “health care design contest.”
It sounded, how should I phrase it…unusual, that the NEA would invite the art community to a meeting to discuss issues currently under vehement national debate. I decided to call in, and what I heard concerned me.
On August 12, a group of 21 arts organizations endorsed President Barack Obama's health reform plan only 48 hours after a conference call in which a top National Endowment for the Arts official asked arts groups for help in advancing the administration's policy agenda, including health care.Read the whole thing. It's interesting to watch how some of the organizations involved, including the NEA, have backpedaled with regard to their involvement in this call once this story broke.
One reason the arts organizations may have been so swift to follow the administration's suggestion is that 16 of the groups and affiliated organizations received nearly $2 million in grants from the National Endowment for the Arts in the 150 days before the conference call. According to a Washington Times analysis of NEA records, more than $1 million of that total came from the stimulus package.
As an artist--albeit one who brings in the vast majority of teaching, rather than performing--I can't totally slam the NEA; the've done some good things over the years. And while I'd certainly like to see more private funding of the arts (which would be easier to do for more people if the government didn't take so much of our income in taxes), I don't have a problem with government taking on part of the funding of the arts...until it crosses the line into propaganda like this.
As someone who's, well, out making art and teaching others to do so for around 12 hours a day, I don't really have time to blog about this in even a fraction of the detail that I'd like to do. For more on the subject, go here, here, here and here. Hopefully, I can chime in a little more on this subject later on.