At Big Hollywood Patrick Courrielche has a disturbing account of the politicization of the NEA and the attempt to convert it into a partisan body to advance controversial political positions favored by the current administration:
I was invited by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to take part in a conference call that invited a group of rising artist and art community luminaries "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."
Now admittedly, I'm a skeptic of BIG government. In my view, power tends to overreach whenever given the opportunity. It's a law of human nature that has very few exceptions. That said, it felt to me that by providing issues as a cynosure for inspiration to a handpicked arts group - a group that played a key role in the President's election as mentioned throughout the conference call - the National Endowment for the Arts was 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. . . .
On Thursday August 6th, I was invited by the National Endowment for the Arts to attend a conference call scheduled for Monday August 10th hosted by the NEA, the White House Office of Public Engagement, and United We Serve. The call would include "a group of artists, producers, promoters, organizers, influencers, marketers, taste-makers, leaders or just plain cool people to join together and work together to promote a more civically engaged America and celebrate how the arts can be used for a positive change!"
I learned after the conference call that there were approximately 75 people participating, including many well respected street-artists, filmmakers, art galleries, music venues, musicians and music producers, writers, poets, actors, independent media outlets, marketers, and various other professionals from the creative community. . . .
There is no shortage of problems within the art community that the NEA could tackle. Museums across the country have been hit hard by the financial crisis. Their trusts and portfolios have seen massive declines. Donations, attendance, and memberships are down. Many have had to reduce exhibition hours due to staffing and budget reductions. And countless art galleries, the lifeblood and revenue stream for many artists, have closed or are on the brink of closure. Rallying the art community around these issues seems a more appropriate use of its resources.
I'm not a "right-wing nut job." It just goes against my core beliefs to sit quietly while the art community is used by the NEA and the administration to push an agenda other than the one for which it was created. It is not within the National Endowment for the Arts' original charter to initiate, organize, and tap into the art community to help bring awareness to health care, or energy & environmental issues for that matter; and especially not at a time when it is being vehemently debated. Artists shouldn't be used as tools of the state to help create a climate amenable to their positions, which is what appears to be happening in this instance. If the art community wants to tackle those issues on its own then fine. But tackling them shouldn't come as an encouragement from the NEA to those they potentially fund at this coincidental time.
And if you think that my fear regarding the arts becoming a tool of the state is still unfounded, I leave you with a few statements made by the NEA to the art community participants on the conference call. "This is just the beginning. This is the first telephone call of a brand new conversation. We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government. What that looks like legally?…bare with us as we learn the language so that we can speak to each other safely… "
Is the hair on your arms standing up yet?
This is precisely the sort of thing that I feared when last year I blogged about private associations being brought under state control. I warned last summer:
Unlike some European systems of the past two centuries, the American tradition is for individuals to form their own diverse communities and for each community to govern itself to the extent possible. Universal national service seems to reverse the direction of this relationship: its goal is to use the government to transform people to fit within the government's vision of what's important and how one should serve. Senator Barack Obama makes that government direction clear, promising us that his administration "will direct that service to our most pressing national challenges," eschewing the traditional American approach of having the government take its direction from the diverse choices of its people.
As de Tocqueville understood, voluntary associations are valuable not merely on account of what they accomplish, either for participants or for others, but also because they establish cultural and political forces in society independent of government. In modern society, and perhaps especially in America, each individual stands alone as an independent citizen in relation to the state, and individuals are therefore peculiarly dependent on voluntary associations to ensure that the state does not acquire a monopoly of cultural and political influence. Voluntary associations help to protect us from what de Tocqueville called "the tyranny of the majority."
In Mr. Obama's vision of voluntary organization, however, the government would develop, coordinate, and focus the efforts of private individuals and their associations, which thus would lose their independence and much of their capacity to offer alternatives to the state and its vision of life. Indeed, far from challenging the state and holding it accountable, morally or politically, many private associations would become aligned with the state. Rather than being alternatives to government, they would become its instruments. . . .
By bringing voluntary charitable activity under government control and by presenting his scheme as a "civilian national security force," Mr. Obama is breaking down the barriers between private and public life, between individual choice and government programs, between childhood education and adult employment, and between the diversity of freely chosen efforts on behalf of one's neighbors and subservience to the government's vision of the good.
As the NEA said in the conference call reported above, "This is just the beginning."
On September 11 and September 12 we might start hearing a lot about the administration's plans to implement the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act by inducing schools to hire "service-learning coordinators" (essentially community organizers interested in education), monitoring and deciding which charities will qualify for free labor, fulfilling Obama's campaign promise to "direct that service to our most pressing national challenges," and changing the nature of primary, middle, and high school education in the United States.