According to "art community consultant" Patrick Courrielche, who supports those Obama Joker posters, the NEA organized a recent conference call to assemble an army of artists who will maybe possibly (hopefully?) use their work to inspire service in key social arenas, such as health care and energy.
The call, he says, included the NEA's Director of Communications, Yosi Sergant, White House Office of Public Engagement Deputy Director Buffy Wicks and Nell Abernathy, who directs outreach for United We Serve, the President's community service initiative. All parties apparently highlighted the importance of these pressing national issues.
The call's participants were "encouraged" to use their myriad mediums to concoct "creative ways to talk about the issues facing the country." Now, it's not unusual for the government to use art in times of economic need. Long ago, the New Deal's Works Progress Administration set up the Federal Art Project, which had artists beautify the Depression-pocked landscape and remind them of essential needs, like good dental care. But the WPA and NEA are different beasts, and Courrielche worries that the NEA, which offers grants to artists and often drums up even more money for grantees, will use this initiative to pick and choose ideologically motivated artists.
Discussed throughout the conference call was a hope that this group would be one that would carry on past the United We Serve campaign to support the President's initiatives and those issues for which the group was passionate.... A machine that the NEA helped to create could potentially be wielded by the state to push policy.
After voicing even more concerns about government overreach, Courrielche asserts the call's maestro described the initiative as a "brand new conversation," yet intimated that the group itself doesn't know the legality of the project:
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…
Yes, this could all be very scary, but Courrielche — who only includes that one direct quote — offers little more in the way of proof for his art-induced anxiety. While we don't doubt this conversation happened, it seems to us that the government should be encouraging artists to use their craft to raise awareness.
It's not like all Americans read the news. Some of them simply like looking at pretty pictures. If the government used its funds to back artists who agreed with the administration's proposals — well, that would be a problem, but Courrielche hypothesis basically assumes that Americans are stupid and will believe anything they see. In more ways than one.