Most of you probably heard about the conference call by Yosi Sergant of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to "hand-picked" pro-Obama artists where their help was solicited to push the Obama agenda. There's been a lot of controversy (surprise, surprise, right?) and some have attacked the messenger (again, surprise, surprise). The "messenger" was artist Patrick Courrielche, who participated in the conference call. He didn't like the idea of an Arts organization, tasked with supporting the Arts and Artists, pushing a political agenda. He taped the call, then shared it in his blog.
As a result of the controversy Yosi was moved to a new position... somewhere... out of the public eye. Aside from that, I seriously doubt that anything changed in the "mission" aside from getting a little sneakier about how help is solicited from the arts community.
I've been to a few NEA presentations regarding grants, etc. and it is a HUGE organization with tentacles into all aspects of the Arts. I also get all the info on their grants and awards... there's big money available... and a whole lotta people attempting to get their piece of the money pie. Between the presentations, the releases and talking with reps and those who've tried for the dollars, I have a pretty clear understanding that it's a whole bunch-a work to get the money and chances are slim for the small guys.
I'm blessed as an artist to have a good financial foundation that allows me to support my art habit without worrying too much about paying the home electric bill. I also don't have aspirations to start an arts organization that would require major funding. Therefore my interest in the NEA is and was strictly a matter of personal curiosity along with an interest in keeping up with the latest and greatest for all our Arts blogs and our Arts news site (www.artsacrossgeorgia.com). // An aside: I seriously doubt after writing this blog, and others, that I'd ever be on the "gee let's give artist Janet some NEA money" anyway ;-) //
I did NOT like the idea that the White House, at any level, was using this organization to promote or support a political agenda.
Here's the "about" info from their website:
The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nation's largest annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.
To get a taste of how much money we're talking about, here's their 2010 appropriations summary:
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) submits its budget request of $161.315 million for FY 2010 (see Tables 1 and 2 at the end of this section), which includes:
• $132.540 million for grant-making activities:
- $79.524 million for Direct Endowment Grants
- $53.016 million for State/Regional Partnerships
• $ 1.850 million for program support efforts, and
• $ 26.925 million for salaries and expenses.
Link to full request: http://www.nea.gov/about/Budget/NEA-FY10-Appropriations-Request.pdf
I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about the government taking tax dollars to support the Arts. It's an issue that hasn't allocated much of my brain matter, I have bigger things to worry about these days! I believe strongly that the Arts are important, critical, to a thriving society. However, I get a bit wobbly when it comes to taking tax dollars and giving them to artists... In the scheme of government spending and expenses 161 million is a drop in the bucket.
Back to the main issue though: I don't like the idea of anyone co-opting the Arts for political purposes. If artists want to start up a Support Obama Group (or need a support group because of Obama) that's fine and dandy. Let 'em get together and see who wants to participate. But when the White House uses the NEA to push their agenda, it smells. It stinks. If you were on that call and had a grant in the pipeline for some NEA money, would you feel the need to slide some Obama Love posters into the packet? Would you wonder if you didn't fall in line politically that your grant might not make the cut?
I've written about this one elsewhere so I won't grind on the issue any more. Someone had a link on Facebook to this blog on the issue: http://biggovernment.com/2009/09/21/explosive-new-audio-reveals-white-house-using-nea-to-push-partisan-agenda/ which I had to click, which led me to feel the need to blog about it myself... the blogs that bind
Bits and pieces of the conference call that started the ball rolling have been played in the media over the past 3 plus weeks (the actual call occurred on 8/10 I believe). Now Patrick Courrielche has provided the entire transcript and audio from the call: