Blogger: Artists Being Recruited by Federal Agency to Propel Obama Agenda?

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Posted: Aug 26, 2009 4:52 PM
Out in the blogosphere, I've just stumbled upon an informative yet disturbing post on Andrew Breitbart's "Big Hollywood" site.  In one post, LA-based "filmmaker, marketer and art community consultant" Patrick Courrielche describes an invitation he received from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to take part in a conference call with “a group of artists, producers, promoters, organizers, influencers, marketers, taste-makers, leaders or just plain cool people" who would "promote a more civically engaged America and celebrate how the arts can be used for a positive change!”  Members of the art community were being invited "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."

At its most basic level, the NEA is an independent agency of the US federal government that offers support and funding for exemplary artistic projects.  Noticeably absent from the agency's mission statement is any mention of the federal government using art and artists to propel select political agenda items.  Courrielche wondered: "could the National Endowment for the Arts be looking to the art community to create an environment amenable to the administration’s positions?"

He reports:
"[T]he 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. ...
He thought the invite seemed "unusual," but decided to call-in.  What he heard, he says, disturbed him.  Leading the call were high-ranking officials of the NEA, the White House, United We Serve, Rock the Vote, etc.:

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... to “shape the lives” of those around us. The now famous Obama “Hope” poster, created by artist Shepard Fairey.. 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. 

So, the nation's largest funder of creative arts--a federal agency under the direction of the Obama administration--was asking artists it could potentially fund to take action on issues of priority to the administration.  Conflict of interest?

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. This is what Noam Chomsky calls “manufacturing consent.” 

In reading Courrielche's own opinion, you can see how this step by the NEA and the Obama administration may be crossing lines that should not be crossed:

I’m not a “right-wing nut job.” It just goes against my core beliefs to sit quietly while the art community is used by the NEA and the administration to push an agenda other than the one for which it was created. It is not within the National Endowment for the Arts’ original charter to initiate, organize, and tap into the art community to help bring awareness to health care, or energy & environmental issues for that matter; and especially not at a time when it is being vehemently debated. Artists shouldn’t be used as tools of the state to help create a climate amenable to their positions, which is what appears to be happening in this instance...

[I]f you think that my fear regarding the arts becoming a tool of the state is still unfounded, I leave you with a few statements made by the NEA to the art community participants on the conference call. “This is just the beginning. This is the first telephone call of a brand new conversation. We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government. What that looks like legally?…bare with us as we learn the language so that we can speak to each other safely..." (emphases are author's)

Read Courrielche's entire account here and see what you think.  Change to believe in or run from?