by Patrick Courrielche

Another conference call has materialized, revealing a concerted effort by government to use the arts to address political issues.

Lee Rosenbaum, a blogger for Artsjournal.com, posted her experience with a meeting that occurred on August 27th and confessed that she also felt “uneasy” about the government’s arts effort.  The meeting invitation (viewable here) went out to all “member local, state, and regional arts agencies, community-based arts organizations, and national partners of Americans for Arts.” Americans for Arts is a non-profit arts organization that has received substantial grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.


As with my conference call, the art group was invited to the meeting to work together to “tackle some of the nation’s toughest issues: education; health; energy and the environment; community renewal; and safety and security.” Also like my call, it included a private citizen moderating the phone call with key White House representatives participating. Kalpen Modi, Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, was to represent the White House and key representatives from the National Endowment for the Arts were also to participate.

Even more disturbing than learning that the White House and NEA are using the arts to address specific issues, is to learn what was discussed on this new conference call. Rosenbaum mentions that there was much talk of “leveraging federal dollars” to get artists and cultural organizations involved in social-service projects.  

Leveraging federal dollars? This is the problem with marrying issue specific topics, like health care and energy, with a group that is funded by tax dollars; it increases the potential of taxpayer-funded propaganda.

As mentioned in the invitation, the NEA was to be on this phone call. However at the last minute, as Rosenbaum blogged, “Modi informed us that ‘unfortunately our colleagues from NEA and NEH [the National Endowment for the Humanities]’ were tied up in meetings and couldn’t participate, as had been planned.”

Could it have anything to do with the article I posted two days earlier? We can only guess but Rosenbaum also hopes that they might have been “having second thoughts about commandeering their constituents for this political adventure.”

What appears to be emerging is a concerted and deliberate effort by the White House and the NEA to encourage the art community to create issue specific art. This new conference call shows the same modus operandi, including a “third party” individual moderating the call to apparently distance the NEA and the White House from initiating the meeting.

The National Endowment for the Arts has yet to comment regarding their involvement with this effort, except for one small, but damaging, comment by their Communications Director Yosi Sergant.

When asked by Kerry Picket of the Washington Times about the NEA’s involvement in inviting artists to my conference call, Sergant said that “the NEA didn’t invite, we were a participant in a call, there was a third party that did the invitations.” When asked for a copy of the invitation, Sergant responded that the invitation “didn’t come from us…so I don’t have it…” He went on to state that Michael Skolnik was the “third party” and that the Corporation for National and Community Service was the party who set up the conference call. This dialogue can be heard here:

We’ve already proved there are two dishonest remarks in this statement from the NEA in a previous post, namely that the NEA did have the invite and they did send it out to the art community.

When the “Corporation” (referenced by Sergant) was asked by Josh Miller of Foxnews.com about my conference call, a representative stated that “the call was organized by an ‘individual interested’ in the group…”

Interesting. Because this same interested individual, Michael Skolnik, contradicts both of these federal agency’s statements in his opening remarks of the conference call I was on.

Skolnik states that it was the White House and the National Endowment for the Arts that asked him to bring together this independent art group. Skolnik’s statement can be heard here:

These obvious contradictions, as well as the documented dishonesty on the part of the National Endowment for the Arts, support a conclusion that the NEA may feel their involvement with this effort is outside of their mandate. George Will, Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper journalist, appears to agree with my conclusion. On this past Sunday’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, George Will referenced the NEA’s involvement in the conference call and stated, “I don’t know how many laws that breaks but I’m sure there are some.

With the building evidence of bad behavior by the NEA, you’d think this federal agency would have issued a statement explaining their position on this “brand new” direction for the arts. But as the cliché goes, the silence has been deafening. This taxpayer funded agency and their civil servants haven’t even returned phone calls from legitimate press outlets such as the Boston Globe, Foxnews.com, or the Washington Times.

Even more deafening is the silence on the part of the mainstream media. Documented dishonesty by White House appointed officials should easily draw the ire of our media watchdogs. But the liberal media, historically a protector of the arts, has turned its back on the community of which it adores. Like the Van Jones story, it appears that the blogosphere and conservative media are the only two forums that break news anymore. And the news that they break has dire consequences for those involved regardless of the mainstream media’s blind eye.

We need the National Endowment for the Arts to respond to these issues immediately. The NEA needs to issue a statement explaining the agency’s involvement in encouraging the art community to create art on issues being vehemently debated, contradictions made by their Communications Director, and lack of response to the inquiries of both the concerned public and press outlets.

As the former deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Lynne Munson, stated in a recent post, during her tenure as deputy chairman “any action resembling this call would have triggered immediate dismissal.” I think we’ve shown action resembling this call.

Bad behavior must have consequences, or else that behavior becomes the norm. The actions of the National Endowment for the Arts are leaving the agency vulnerable to attacks on its credibility and rationale for existence.

The NEA needs to address this issue.


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