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Cornyn Warns Obama About "Politicizing" the NEA


by Jerome Weeks 11 Sep 2009

In an open letter (which you can read on his website), Senator John Cornyn takes umbrage at a telephone conference last month in which the NEA and the White House Office of Public Engagement purportedly sought to enlist artists on behalf of the administration’s United We Serve volunteer initiative. Cornyn’s letter was prompted by a […]

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johncornynIn an open letter (which you can read on his website), Senator John Cornyn takes umbrage at a telephone conference last month in which the NEA and the White House Office of Public Engagement purportedly sought to enlist artists on behalf of the administration’s United We Serve volunteer initiative.

Cornyn’s letter was prompted by a report about the conference on the Big Hollywood blog. The LA Times Culture Monster blog has the full story. Cornyn is upset because “steering the arts community toward a pro-Administration political message” would violate the NEA’s nonpartisan mandate when it comes to disbursing federal funds to non-profit arts institutions. Reportedly, the teleconference sought to tap into the volunteer energy and spirit generated by the Obama campaign and direct it toward a more “civicly engaged America.”  But Lee Rosenbaum also reported her concerns about what she heard during the teleconference in her CultureGrrl blog on Artsjournal.com.  Regardless of one’s party afiliation, she writes, it’s easy enough to see that increased, direct government involvement in the arts leads to increased government interference.

A White House spokesman said the idea behind the conference was not about advancing any administration agenda. It was about getting Americans to volunteer. The NEA said more or less the same thing — it often informs organizations about outreach possibilities and available resources.

Ben Donenberg, an L.A. theater director who serves on the National Council on the Arts, the 15-member panel of presidential appointees that advises the NEA, said it’s important for the endowment to avoid the appearance of partisanship, but that Cornyn’s letter to Obama smacks of “grandstanding,” with a political agenda of its own.

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  • Bill Marvel

    Cornyn is right.
    This was a ham-fisted effort by an overly politicised NEA and ought to be resisted by all artists who value their independence. Unlike the President’s address to school children, which except for one ill-considered section of the study guide, did not advance a partisan agenda, NEA and the White House Office way overstepped their boundaries and placed ammunition in the hands of those who would abolish NEA.

  • Zelda Rose

    And of course, the Republicans would NEVER consider making the NEA a political football, would they? And they’d NEVER cut NEA funding under their asinine “culture war.” Of course not!

  • Bill Marvel

    They very well might. That doesn’t make Cornyn wrong, Zelda.

  • Claude Tucker

    I’m not sure why Zelda thinks we should be paying for this during any administration. Defund the NEA entirely. WIth the money we save buy paint and canvas.