Wednesday, August 26, 2009

NEA: Using Stimulus Money To Blackmail Artists?

So the NEA gets just over $80 million from Barack Obama's stimulus package; certainly a questionable grant while deficits are skyrocketing and unemployment continues to mount. Offensive enough that some of this money has been "plowed" into funding and supporting pornographic ventures ("Perverts Put Out") under the guise of "art".

But should they be organizing artists to support administration causes? Patrick Courrielche was on the conference call, and he describes what he heard:

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.

Interesting. Mobilizing an "army of artists" (to paraphrase Glenn Reynolds), in order to disseminate government propaganda, with the expressed intent of shaping the "lives" (opinions) of their fellow Americans.

Hmmm....unusual, indeed. Maybe George Bush should have done the same thing in the run-up to the Iraq war; some four-color prints of Saddam engaged in one brutal act ot another...

Anyway - here's the unspoken threat, which I am sure was not wasted on the conference call crowd:

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?

So we're seeing some more Chicago-style politics as usual, Al Capone style. "We need help pushing our radical agenda down the people's throat, and we need you guys to create an artistic basis for the changes we wish to make. So hop to it, or don't be surprised if subsequent requests for funding are summarily rejected."

Perhaps this blackmail from the NEA will finally wake up artists to the fact that government money in the service of art is not free; it comes with strings attached - strings that the lender may feel free to pull at any time, to demand your work in his service, on the threat of being deprived of your livelihood. "Who's gonna care about another starving artist, boy? So shut up and start cranking out those health care lithographs pronto; I want to see proofs on my desk by the end of the week. Capish?"

Curious to see what comes out of this ugly little effort. Another "Hope" poster? Or something more akin to the now-infamous "Joker"?

UPDATE: This story is getting bigger play since I posted this yesterday. More here and here

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