Earlier this month, I detailed the smug and appalling outcomes of the National Endowment for the Arts' $50 million finding increase. It turns out I underestimated the consequences, as Patrick Courrielche explains on Big Hollywood:
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!" . . .My thoughts:
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.
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.
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. . .
Discussed throughout the conference call was a hope that this group would be one that would carry on past the United We Serve campaign to support the President’s initiatives and those issues for which the group was passionate. The making of a machine appeared to be in its infancy, initiated by the NEA, to corral artists to address specific issues.
This function was not the original intention for creating the National Endowment for the Arts.
A machine that the NEA helped to create could potentially be wielded by the state to push policy. Through providing guidelines to the art community on what topics to discuss and providing them a step-by-step instruction to apply their art form to these issues, the "nation’s largest annual funder of the arts" is attempting to direct imagery, songs, films, and literature that could create the illusion of a national consensus.
- Art for politics' sake: The NEA dispenses millions, making it predictable that the art community will turn handsprings to please the agency. So the recruiting effort is likely to succeed. But healthcare reform and cap and trade are "issues currently under legislative consideration," as Courrielche notes. And funding campaigns to advance draft laws is unlawful under the Anti-Lobbying Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1913. It also would be manufacturing propaganda, Soviet style. Wouldn't that, as Jim Lindgren asks on Volokh, "convert [NEA] into a partisan body to advance controversial political positions favored by the current administration"?
- Depends on how you define "independent": The NEA describes itself as "an independent agency of the federal government." How is a conference call with White House staff, and staff of the Corporation for National and Community Service -- a government agency -- independent? Moreover, NEA's statutory mission is (20 U.S.C. § 954(c)) to promote "projects and productions which have substantial national or international artistic and cultural significance," including "projects and productions that will encourage public knowledge, education, understanding, and appreciation of the arts." How is pushing artists "into creating state-sponsored art that glorifies the state" consistent with that role?
- That was then; this is now: So far, the media and the left have mostly been muted or mildly positive. (Among newspapers, a Google search turns up only the conservative Washington Times and Examiner; I could find nothing on DailyKos or Democratic Underground.) Can you picture the firestorm had the Bush Administration funded private speech to promote its political agenda? Actually, no imagination is required: Congressional Democrats, the mainstream media and lefties went crazy when the Bush Administration paid talk-show hosts and journalists to champion its education and health agendas. But, in service of a Democrat, progressive free speech concerns fade.
- Money for nothing: As Ace notes, the NEA's constituency is overwhelmingly leftist anyway. So the Administration's efforts are merely more wasted spending--artists already deify the Obamessiah for free.
(via The Corner)