Buffy Wicks, deputy director of the White House Office of Public Engagement has been accused (with others) of encouraging artists supported by the National Endowment for the Arts to produce works supporting President Obama and his policies. The story first appeared in BigGovernment.com.
On the transcript of an hour-long conference call, Buffy Wicks states “We’re going to need your help, and we’re going to come at you with some specific ‘asks’ here,. But we know that you guys are ready for it and eager to participate, so one we want to thank you, and two, I hope you guys are ready.” Personally, I am more concerned about a high-ranking official using the verb “to ask” as a noun. That falls into the category of saying “my Bad” as an immediate cause to be sent to Gitmo for waterboarding and re-education.
The conference call was also arranged through United We Serve and included NEA Director of Communications Yosi Sergant and Michael Skolnik, political director for hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.
Yosi Sergant added his own questionable political and grammatical demand in naming an “ask”: “Pick — I would encourage you to pick something, whether it’s health care, education, the environment, you know, there’s four key areas that the corporation has identified as the areas of service. My ask would be to apply artistic, you know, your artistic creative communities’ utilities and bring them to the table.”
Skolnick added “[y]ou are the thought leaders,” Skolnik told the artists. “You are the ones that, if you create a piece of art or promote a piece of art or create a campaign . . . through this 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.”
Critics are charging that this is nothing short of an effort to use of public-supported artists for “propaganda.” I am not sure that that is fair, but it is certainly true that liberals would have been outraged by the same statements from Bush officials. I honestly do not believe that this was an effort coercing artists or usurping the NEA, but it was clearly bad judgment on the part of these officials.
In the interest of fairness, I must confess that I have never liked this office, which is part of the Office of Public Liaison. The OPL has always been controversial since its time under Nixon and Chuck Colson. Nevertheless, if the office is composed of political operatives seeking to advance the President’s policies, it is going to reach out to artists and others to achieve that goal. The problem is that the NEA has always been controversial in the use of public funds to support artists. To add a political agenda or consideration will only serve to reinforce critics who want to cut the NEA funding entirely.