Two weeks ago, Senator John Cornyn picked up on the outcry from conservative bloggers about an August conference call in which the NEA and the White House Office of Public Engagement purportedly sought to enlist artists on behalf of the Obama administration’s United We Serve volunteer initiative. Senator Cornyn wrote an open letter to the president denouncing this call because it was “steering the arts community toward a pro-Administration political message.” This would violate the NEA’s nonpartisan mandate when it comes to disbursing federal funds to non-profit arts institutions.
Now it turns out that:
- None of the NEA’s budget was spent or offered.
- Secretly taping the conference call — which is what art community consultant Patrick Courrielche did before writing it up on his Big Hollywood blog — is illegal under California law. Courrielche’s office is based in LA — and at least 15 of the participants in the call were also in California.
- Even so — Caesar’s wife and all that, as the aphorism goes — the new NEA chair Rocco Landesman has issued a public explanation of the call and the roll played by Yosi Sergant, the NEA rep behind it.
- And he’s essentially fired Sergant.
- “Landesman’s statement reiterated the NEA’s previous response that the purpose of the teleconference was supposed to be to inform the arts community of opportunities to take part in volunteerism programs, and ‘not a means to promote any legislative agenda.’
- But Landesman went further and said that some of Sergant’s language in the phone call was “not appropriate.” So Sergant has been “relieved of his duties as director of communications.” The inappropriate language that got him fired? The NEA regularly shares information with groups about funding opportunities but Sergant “encouraged” and “asked” his listeners for specific proposals.