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More Fallout from the "Politicized" NEA Contretemps


by Jerome Weeks 23 Sep 2009

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 […]

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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.
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  • Ron Bridges

    “None of the NEA’s budget was spent or offered”……………PLEASE, don’t you recognize an implied threat to get on the team or else ?

    If this sort of thing doesn’t bother you then you’re choosing to be blind.

  • Oh, I can see that. I don’t disagree.

    But then, what were all the sessions that the Bush administration held around the country to encourage and assist church and community groups to apply for faith-based grants? (By the way, that program essentially still exists — the Obama administration has just given it a different name and hid it in the corner.) Through various means, the government is constantly helping people and organizations apply for grants. It needs to, the entire grant application system is madness-inducing, as someone who has applied for a medical research grant can attest.

    So where do we draw the line between ‘getting the word out about government money available’ and ‘trying to promote our partisan policies’? Apparently, that line got crossed somewhere between “shared” and “encouraged.”

  • citizenarts

    How is there an implied threat if not one of the people on the call were even eligible for an NEA?! None of them were with non-profits and NEVER did they even discuss money… seems like there is an implication of implication that is just that… implied.