Other than the National Endowment for the Arts’ already tenuous reputation, the only casualty in the NEA conference call episode has been Yosi Sergant, the former Director of Communications for the public agency charged with funding arts organizations in America.
On September 10, the NEA announced that Sergant would be re-assigned with this curious statement accompanying the move:
“On August tenth, the National Endowment for the Arts participated in a call with arts organizations to inform them of the president’s call to national service. The White House office of public engagement also participated in the call, which provided information on how the Corporation for National and Community Service can assist groups interested in sponsoring service projects or having their members volunteer on other projects. This call was not a means to promote any legislative agenda and any suggestions to that end are simply false. The NEA regularly does outreach to various organizations to inform of the work we are doing and the resources available to them.”
This statement leads any objective and reasonable observer to wonder why Mr. Sergant would be “re-assigned” if there was nothing wrong with this purely “information/outreach” conference call. As has often been the case with this, the most open and transparent administration in history, it is very difficult to get a straight answer. We can’t even learn WHAT Sergant’s new position is, let alone why he was asked to step down from his role as Communications Director.
If the NEA and the White House are shocked that Mr. Sergant would blur the lines between arts advocacy and politics then they are doing their best Claude Rains impersonation. Yosi Sergant is all about art and politics. The only reason anyone knows Yosi Sergant’s NAME is because of his devastatingly effective work rallying artists to the Obama cause and using their artistry to promote the image, the essence, the idea of Obama.
After the election and during the transition, Mr. Sergant continued rallying artists in support of the President-elect. As curator of Manifest Hope:DC a Washington version of the exhibi, he first assembled in Denver for the Democratic National Convention, Sergant rallied support from sponsors to present the Obama Art Fest exhibit at M Street location in Georgetown. Who were two of the main sponsors of this Obama Art Orgy? MoveOn.org’s PAC and the SEIU. That’s right, the same union tough-guys who like to intimidate folks at heath care town halls also like to go to gallery’s in Georgetown and sip cosmos out of recyclable cups.
According their website, MANIFESTHOPE: DC showcased the works of over 150 different artists advocating improvement in three key areas: HEALTH CARE REFORM, WORKERS’ RIGHTS, and THE GREEN ECONOMY. Sound familiar? Yup, that’s right, the theme of the artists work at ManifestHope seems eerily similar to the agenda of the August 10 conference call.
One other fun-fact from the irony department: One of the judges of the exhibit, along with Spike Lee and Shepard Fairey was none other than recently-resigned Van Jones. Follow this link to view some examples of the non-conformist artists work. (Isn’t it great how they’re all such free thinkers and don’t follow the herd?)
If the Administration wanted to know what type of soldier Sergant would be at the NEA they should have just read his interviews over the past year, it’s pretty clear. You see, in the left-leaning arts and performing arts world Sergant is a bit of a rock star. He is the first among them to rise up and organize artists to push a political agenda and message all the way to the White House therefore, he was adulated from left to very left all over the Internet and his quote trail is easy to follow:
“My goal is to get Obama elected. I use the mechanisms I know, which are basically artistic. Look how important the grass roots are. Look at the effect they can have. I drank the Kool-Aid. I am alive with it, I believe…”
And once he was elected did the Administration really think that Sergant would settle into a boring PR position at a funding agency and not use his skills to rally artists around the president’s agenda? It would be like assigning Mary Matalin a job as spokesperson for the Post Office, she’d be effective, but eventually she’d start using her position to bash Democrats, it’s what she does, it’s who she is.
And so it was with Yosi Sergant. Before he started in his official capacity at the NEA, he assembled meetings of “hip-hop” artists and graffiti artists to meet with the administration as well as the first, White House Poetry Jam in May. Sergant considered himself a hip-hop artist. He said, “Spray-paint brought me to the NEA and I won’t forget that.” He also told Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop – Won’t Stop blog:
“I think we can revolutionize the way that Americans think about art.”
That’s a terrific sentiment Mr. Sergant. Trouble is: That’s not the NEA’s job. The NEA gives out grants to arts organizations. They do not revolutionize the way Americans think about ANYTHING. They fund theatres and museums and let the theatres and the museums do the “revolutionizing”. And since the NEA re-assigned you after the news of your phone calls came to light, I would have to assume that NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman agrees.