Path to political propaganda at the National Endowment for the Arts

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Day by day how the National Endowment for the Arts  transformed from arts funder to political powerhouse.


November 10, 2008Former NEA chief named to Obama transition team. Bill Ivey, NEA head under Bill Clinton, will handle arts and cultural issues in the transition.

January 13, 2009: Arts groups lobby Obama transition team for stimulus money. As part of a larger group, Americans for the Arts, the Literary Network and Theatre Communications Group propose to the Obama transition that more than $1 billion be funneled through the NEA as part of the stimulus plan. All three would later endorse the Obama administration health initiative. Robert Lynch, head of Americans for the Arts, meets twice with transition officials. link 1link 2

Late January 2009Obama transition official proposes linking NEA grantees to the White House: “I worked hard to try to forge a link between the arts agencies and mainstream policy in the West Wing of the White House. I know that there is serious consideration being given to placing an arts-and-culture portfolio within the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Engagement in the Domestic Policy Council. I worked hard to get that done and I think that will happen,” says former NEA chief Bill Ivey.

LinkNational Endowment for the Arts Announces Second Round of Grants for FY 2009



February 17, 2009: President Barack Obama signs stimulus bill. Included in the bill are millions for NEA grants.

April 30, 2009: First major NEA grants of Obama administration announced. Groups that would later endorse the Obama health reform plan receive more than $700,000.

Alliance of Artists Communities: $50,000

Arts & Business Council: $10,000

Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design (and member groups): $115,000

Association of Writers & Writing Programs (and member groups): $130,000 

Fractured Atlas: $20,000

National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture: $160,000

National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts: $35,000

Society for Arts in Healthcare: $15,000

Theatre Communications Group: $175,000

VSA Arts: $10,000 

May 12, 2009: Rocco Landesman nominated to head the National Endowment for the Arts.

June 19, 2009Obama advisor reveals plan to connect “administration objectives” and “cultural actors.” Obama Transition advisor advisor Bill Ivey is taped saying,  “I wanted to see some real connection between administration objectives and the capacity of all the cultural actors in government. I made some progress. I got some agreement.”

July 7, 2009: Obama administration releases first NEA grants from stimulus package. Groups that would later endorse the Obama health reform plan receive more than $1.2 million.

Americans for the Arts: $50,000

Alliance of Artists Communities (and member groups): $725,000 

Society for Arts in Healthcare: $50,000

Theatre Communications Group: $50,000

American Association of Community Theatre (and member groups): $25,000

Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design (and member groups): $150,000

Association of Writers & Writing Programs: $50,000

National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts (and affiliates): $150,000

Aug. 6, 2009:NEA invites arts groups to discuss “United We Serve” initiative. Invitation comes from the email account of Yosi Sergant, director of communications for the National endowment for the Arts. Later when The Washington Times asks Sergant about the email, he lies about his involvement in the conference call.

Aug. 7, 2009Landesman confirmed as NEA head.

Aug. 10, 2009NEA holds conference call asking grantees to get involved in politics. NEA Communications Director Sergant makes his wishes clear during the 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. … So bear with us as we learn the language, so that we can speak to each other safely and we can really work together to move the needle and to get … stuff done. … I would encourage you to pick something, whether it’s health care, education, the environment…. Then my ask would be to apply your artistic, creativity community’s utilities. Bring them to the table. … Take photos. Take video. Post it on your blogs. Get the word out. Like I said, this is a community that knows how to make a stink. Do it. Do it within your town. Do it nationally. Call on other producers, marketers, publicists, art — you know — artists, people from within our community and get them engaged.” 

Aug. 12, 2009: 1st press release ‘Statement … in support of Comprehensive Health Care Reform.‘ Two days after the conference call, arts groups endorse the Obama health plan. “We call on congress to pass: A health care reform bill that will create a public health option … There is little time to waste as a broken system continues to leave far too many behind and adds trillions to our national debt.” Sixteen of the 21 groups that signed the press release either directly received grants from the NEA or are affiliated with groups that received NEA grants within 150 days of issuing the endorsement.

Aug. 13, 2009: 2nd press release ‘Coalition of Arts Groups Issues Urgent Call to Congress for Healthcare Reform.’ The next day, the groups release a new version of the statement. “As national arts service organizations representing thousands of nonprofit arts organizations at the state and local level … we call on Congress to pass a health reform bill,” the groups write. The statement is published on the Americans for the Arts web site. 

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About the Author
Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket, a former Opinion Blogger/Editor of The Watercooler, was associate producer for the Media Research Center, a content producer for Robin Quivers of "The Howard Stern Show" on Sirius satellite radio and a production assistant and copy writer at MTV.

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