Yesterday, the new Breitbart Web site BigGovernment.com broke more corruption news by releasing an audio recording and transcript of a controversial conference call that took place in early August between officials at the National Endowment for the Arts, the White House Office of Public Engagement, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and various people in the arts community who had supported President Obama’s campaign.
When the story of the call first broke a few weeks ago, the NEA denied that it had organized the call and also denied that the call was an effort to encourage artists—for whom the NEA (i.e., the taxpayer) is the single largest source of arts funding—to produce works that support the president and his policy initiatives. As the transcripts shows, however, participants on the call—including Patrick Courrielche, the reporter who originally broke the story—could not but perceive it as an attempt to encourage artists to use their art to support the president’s agenda. Here are some choice excerpts:
Michael Skolnick, political director for hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons:
I have been asked by the folks in the White House and folks in the NEA about a month ago in a conversation that we had. We had the idea that I would help bring together the independent artists community around the country. … [I]t’s clear as an independent art community as artists and thinkers and tastemakers and marketers and visionaries on this call, the role that we played during the campaign for the president and also during his first 200 some odd days of his presidency and the president has a clear arts agenda and has been very supportive of using art and supporting art in creative ways to talk about some of the issues that we face here in our country and also to engage people.
And I think all of us who are on this phone call were selected for a reason, and you are the ones that lead by example in your communities. You are the thought leaders. … And so I’m hoping that through this group and the goal of all this and the goal of this phone call, is through the group that we can create a stronger community amongst ourselves to get involved in things that we’re passionate about as we did during the campaign but continue to get involved in those things, to support some of the president’s initiatives, but also to do things that we are passionate about and to push the president and push his administration.
Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement:
And, you know, we won and that’s exciting, and now we have to take all that energy and make it really meaningful. I’m in the White House now and what I’ve learned over these first—we just had our 200 mark on Saturday, which sounds crazy, is that it’s—that change does not come easy and, you know, when then Candidate Obama would say that it’s like, yeah, I know change doesn’t come easy, but then now that I’m actually in the White House and working towards furthering this agenda, this very aggressive agenda, I’m really realizing that, and I’m also appreciative of the way in which we did win and the strategy that the campaign shows, which is really to engage people at a local level and to engage them in the process, because we need them and we need you, and we’re going to need your help, and we’re going to come at you with some specific asks here.
After identifying health care and energy and environment as two of the four areas in which artists can use their art to encourage change (education and community renewal were the other two areas) Wicks told the group:
I know I’m throwing a lot of government stuff at you guys, so bear with me. It’s the world we live in now. We’re actually running the government.