Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas has sent a letter to President Obama warning against misusing the National Endowment for the Arts for political or propagandistic purposes.
As reported last week at the Clyde Fitch Report, sometime filmmaker/marketer and possible right-wing shill Patrick Courrielche, writing on the website Big Hollywood, suggests that recent conference calls involving the NEA and arts advocates and activists were part of a plot by the Obama Administration to hijack the agency to further political aims.
Precisely what motivated and who authorized the conference calls remains unclear; Yosi Sergant, the spokesperson for the NEA, however, is no longer in that position. Meanwhile, Fox News provocateur Glenn Beck has been using the matter to stir the pot in what could foretell a coming replay of the 1990s culture wars:
The text of Cornyn’s letter to the President has been posted on the senator’s website. This is an excerpt:
Dear President Obama:
A recent blog post by Los Angeles-based artist Patrick Courrielche details an August 10, 2009, conference call hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the White House Office of Public Engagement, and United We Serve. The stated purpose of the call was to encourage a select group of artists “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.” According to Mr. Courrielche, the NEA and the White House were “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.” See http://bighollywood.breitbart.com/pcourrielche/2009/08/25/the-national-endowment-for-the-art-of-persuasion-patrick-courrielche/.
If accurate, Mr. Courrielche’s account of this conference call organized and hosted by your Administration raises a number of serious concerns. First and foremost among these concerns is the participation of the NEA in a conversation “steering” the arts community toward a pro-Administration political message.
As you know, the NEA is the largest annual funder of the arts in the United States. And the imprimatur of an NEA grant often spurs private funding, making NEA grant decisions even more powerful within the arts community. But, as former NEA Chairman Dana Gioia wrote in 2007, “[t]he NEA does not dictate arts policy to the United States . . . .” Indeed, as Gioia observes, this feature is what distinguishes the NEA from other nations’ centralized ministries of culture.
A reasonable observer would view the NEA’s participation in the August 10 call as implying that NEA grant opportunities (i.e., taxpayer dollars) may be tied to artists’ willingness to use their creative talents to advance your Administration’s political agenda. This is not, and has never been, the purpose of the NEA….
Coverage of the story in the Los Angeles Times can be found here.
Previously, The Clyde Fitch Report examined potential antecedents of a right-wing turn against the arts in an essay called “The Coming Backlash Against Artists and Arts Funding.”