The following is a response to the Water Cooler’s coverage of the NEA conference calls from Kevin Erickson, Co-Director of the Seattle based All-Ages Movement Project:
I’d really like to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’re
reporting in good faith about this stuff. Maybe you haven’t written
about arts policy before and you don’t have the context to understand
what’s going on.
You’ve essentially got the dynamic backwards. Artists are trying to
influence the administration, not the other way around.
Artists & organizers requested to meet with the NEA and administration
officials about community arts. So they had a meeting and some
follow-up conversations. This is no different than the communications
staff from the office of faith-based initiatives meeting with religious leaders. It
is a communication person’s job to be a liaison to leading people from
their field. The difference between this administration and the last
one is that artists feel Obama’s team might actually listen to them,
and see a strong role for artists in public life and in the economic
recovery. A role in public life for artists is not the same as trying
to convince Americans of the wisdom of a set of policy proposals.
Individual artists are not eligible for NEA funding. The stimulus
funding only provided money for arts organizations that already had received
NEA funding but were facing layoffs due to the economic crisis. There
is no possible way that the funding could be used to leverage these
people to work for specific policy proposals.
Decisions about NEA grantmaking are advised by the Council on the Arts,
which are people appointed by the president for 6 year terms. Right
now it’s mostly a bunch of Bush appointees like country star Lee
Greenwood, who wrote the patriotic hit “God Bless The USA”. The idea
that NEA money is going to serve some socialist agenda is completely
When I look at the people on the list, the commonality I see is
that these are people interested in service & volunteering. When I
read the transcript of the call, it’s all about encouraging service. Yosi just
pops in to give a little boilerplate pep talk.
It is true that most creative arts professionals are interested in
seeing health reform pass. Artists are more likely to be self-employed or employed
part-time so they are more likely to lack health insurance, or have a
hard time purchasing their own. That’s why anyone who has spent time
time covering arts policy is completely unsurprised to see Americans
for the Arts and other orgs supporting strong reform. Some artists
have been lobbying Obama to stay true to a public option plan rather
than a co-op. But again, the pressure is coming from the arts sector,
TO the administration. Not the other way around.
You do your readers a great disservice when you claim that the NEA was
doing anything but encouraging a bipartisan community service initiative.