A big hat tip to Patrick Courrielche at Big Hollywood, who also broke the story about ACORN’s advice on prostitution.
I recently wrote a critique of the art community’s lack of dissent in the face of many controversial decisions made by the current administration. Entitled “The Artist Formerly Known as Dissident,” one of the key points argued in the article was the potential danger associated with the use of the art community as a tool of the state. Little did I know how quickly this concern would be elevated to an outright probability.
Sometime between when I finished the critique and when it went live online, 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.”
Now admittedly, I’m a skeptic of BIG government. In my view, power tends to overreach whenever given the opportunity. It’s a law of human nature that has very few exceptions. That said, it felt to me that by providing issues as a cynosure for inspiration to a handpicked arts group – a group that played a key role in the President’s election as mentioned throughout the conference call – the National Endowment for the Arts was steering the art community toward creating art on the very issues that are currently under contentious national debate; those being health care reform and cap-and-trade legislation. Could the National Endowment for the Arts be looking to the art community to create an environment amenable to the administration’s positions?
……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!”
I learned after the conference call that there were approximately 75 people participating, including many well respected street-artists, filmmakers, art galleries, music venues, musicians and music producers, writers, poets, actors, independent media outlets, marketers, and various other professionals from the creative community. I suppose I was invited because of my work in creating arts initiatives, but being a former employer of the NEA’s Director of Communications was probably a factor as well.
……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.
……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. This is what Noam Chomsky calls “manufacturing consent.”
Yosi and his “home boy”.
Wicks’ direction to the NEA during the conference call:
“I just first of all want to thank everyone for being on the call and just a deep deep appreciation for all the work you all put into the campaign for the 2+ years we all worked together.”
“I’m actually in the White House and working towards furthering this agenda, this very aggressive agenda.”
“We’re going to come at you with some specific asks here.”
“I hope you guys are ready.”
During the same conference call, Michael Skolnick, political director for hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons said the following in his opening statement:
“I’ve been asked by folks in the White House and folks in the NEA … we had the idea that I would help bring together the artist community…”
“…the Hope poster obviously is a great example, but it’s clear as an independent art community as artists and thinkers and tastemakers and marketers and visionaries that are on this call, the role that we played during the campaign for the president…
“…the President has a clear arts agenda and has been very supportive of using art and supporting art in creative ways to talk about some issues that we face here in our country, but also to engage people. And I think all of us who are on this phone call, you know, were selected for a reason.”
“And so I’m hoping that through this group, and the goal of all this, and the goal of this phone call, is through this group we can create a stronger community amongst ourselves to get involved in things we’re passionate about as we did during the campaign. But to continue to get involved in those things, to support some of the President’s initiatives, but also to do things that we are passionate about and to push the President and push his administration…“
Not only is this un-Constitutional, they broke several Federal laws.
After the shit hit the fan, the denials flew:
And Yosi Sargent was ‘reassigned’.
Here’s the link to the full transcript of the conference call:
The NEA president thinks Obama is the Great American Novelist.
Rocco Landesman, the NEA chairman, said, in part:
This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln. If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar. That has to be good for American artists.
Someone should tell him that domestic terrorist William Ayers was the ghost writer for Obama’s Caesaresque books.
In the words of Chris (I get a thrill up my leg) Matthews, they think it’s their job to ‘do everything they can to make this… new presidency work.’