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Were the arts organizations that endorsed health care reform on the NEA conference call?

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AFA: “
None of the 21 arts organizations, to my knowledge, were on the August 10 conference call, which was reported as for artists, arts marketers, and producers. …  Americans for the Arts did not even learn about the conference call until we read news reports about it in September.”

The Washington Times: According to both a participant in the conference call and a partial list of participants compiled by one of the organizers and obtained by The Times, Kerry Washington was on the call. The document describes Miss Washington as “actress/arts activist. She sits on the board of The Creative Coalition and Americans for The Arts (arts and arts education advocacy organizations) and serves on the board of two organizations committed to the use of theater arts for social change: V-day and The People Speak.”

On the Americans for the Arts website, Miss Washington is described in this way: “Kerry Washington was presented with a 2009 Public Leadership in the Arts Award for Artist-Citizen. She is an acclaimed stage, television, and screen actress, and dedicated advocate for the arts and arts education. No stranger to Capitol Hill, where she has testified before Congress as a member of the Americans for the Arts Artists Committee, Washington was honored for her commitment to arts funding through her advocacy work and other activities in promoting the arts.”

Miss Washington’s publicist has not responded to a request to speak with her. In a phone interview Mr. Lynch disputes whether she qualifies as a “representative” of Americans for the Arts.

“Kerry Washington is a member of the Americans for the Arts Artists Committee.  Artists Committee members and other supporters are occasionally invited by Americans for the Arts to speak on selected topics, such as before Congress, but they are not otherwise authorized to represent, or speak, or act on behalf of Americans for the Arts.  In this case, Ms. Washington was never asked to speak on behalf of or represent Americans for the Arts on healthcare and the arts issues or any other matter on August 10, 2009,” an organization spokesperson wrote in an email.

He can’t have it both ways. When Miss Washington came to DC to testify about the arts before Congress in 2008 and when she received an award related to the arts in 2009 and when her name on an artists board was helpful, Americans for the Arts was  happy to trumpet the association, yet when she calls DC to speak on a conference call about the arts, the association is irrelevant. In addition, before hearing of Miss Washington’s participation from the Times, Mr. Lynch said he was not trying to draw a distinction between individuals working in an official role and individuals on the call in a personal capacity.

According to Lynch, he has contacted all 20 organizations that joined Americans for the Arts in endorsing “comprehensive healthcare reform” including the Obama administration’s public option, and all deny that they were on the call.

That’s not quite the whole story. Americans for the Arts organized that coalition of groups and the press release refers reporters to an Americans for the Arts employee. Three of the organizations that Mr. Lynch contacted are part of Americans for the Arts. For instance, according to its web site, Americans for the Arts Action Fund PAC has the very same Mr. Lynch as its president. At least three other organizations on the list are members of Americans for the Arts as a requirement for them to be partners with the agency in public service ads sponsored by the Ad Council, according to the Americans for the Arts web site. Americans for the Arts has not yet responded to a question asking how many of the other groups are also members of Americans for the Arts.

Further, the NEA does not dispute the contention that arts organizations were on the call, indeed its last official statement on the matter, twice confirms it: “On August tenth, the National Endowment for the Arts participated in a call with arts organizations to inform them of the president’s call to national service. … The NEA regularly does outreach to various organizations to inform of the work we are doing and the resources available to them.”

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About the Author

David Mastio

David Mastio, former Deputy Editorial Page Editor at The Washington Times, was an editorial writer and op-ed editor for USA Today, Washington correspondent for The Detroit News, editorial writer for The Virginian-Pilot, founding Editorial Page Editor of The Washington Examiner and speechwriter for World Bank President Robert Zoellick when he was the United States Trade Representative under President George W. ...

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