NEWLY UNCOVERED EMAILS REVEAL: Federal Volunteer Agency Misrepresented Involvement in White House, NEA Conference Call

Recently revealed documents obtained by Judicial Watch from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) show a few interesting facts and supports the claims made in my earlier articles- namely, Yosi Sergant, the former NEA Communications Director, did not work alone in organizing the controversial August 10th conference call; that the White House Office of Public Engagement was fully aware of his efforts; and most importantly, that The Corporation for National and Community Service misrepresented who actually initiated the meeting.

On August 28th, Josh Miller of reported “Siobhan Dugan, a spokeswoman for [The Corporation for National and Community Service], said the call was organized by an ‘individual interested’ in the group…”

This statement does not correspond with the facts.


The FOIA documents clearly show that on July 29th at 3:39pm, Nell Abernathy, a representative of The Corporation, emailed Yosi Sergant, former Communications Director of the National Endowment for the Arts, indicating that she was the person behind the content of the meeting when she stated (emphasis added):

Thanks for chatting yesterday – I’m attaching a few docs and running through what I think are my next steps.

She goes on to discuss the “Art event coordination” and provides an invite and draft of the meeting agenda to Sergant. Abernathy also states, “What is a reasonable time frame for getting together a list and recruiting some of your friends to lead?” This is in direct contradiction to the above claim by Siobhan Dugan of The Corporation.

The FOIA documents also indicate that Buffy Wicks, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, was the point person at the White House for this project. This is seen in an email from Kalpen Modi, formerly Kal Penn of Kumar fame and now Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. When asked by Sergant to sit in on the August 10th meeting, Modi replied, “I thought you’d said Buffy was the [Office of Public Engagement] point person…” This supports the claim that Wicks was involved in the offline discussions of this arts effort.

The intentions of the meeting were made clear by another Sergant email correspondence. While inviting one of the participants, Sergant stated:

This call is for the people who can come up with a good idea and get it done. Little and big. They are putting together a network of the ‘producers & promoters’ out there like you and me… to turn on to activate on arts issues.

Organizing the art community so that they could be activated to address issues was the point of this effort. This was stated during the August 10th conference call and coincides with previous comments made by the White House including Buffy Wicks in a May 12th White House Briefing. Per the Briefing Notes:

She asked briefing participants to think through how their networks and organizations can participate in areas such as the arts in education, healthcare and preventative care, energy and environment, or economic opportunity.

This administration intends to make an unprecedented shift in its relationship with the arts, and that shift is to use the arts to persuade. We’ve seen this in the Entertainment Industry Foundation memo that encourage TV networks to incorporate the issues of health, energy, and the environment into their show story plots, as well as the August 10th conference call and May 12th White House Briefing.

Has the White House, The Corporation, or the National Endowment for the Arts backed off from this approach due to this controversy?


Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, recently stated during his keynote speech at the 2009 Grantmakers in the Arts Conference:

Whatever might be said on television, radio or blog sites, I have no intention of walking away from the compelling themes of this presidency and a historic opportunity in arts policy.

A wise man recently told me, “There is no better way to show you’ve done nothing wrong than to continue doing what you are doing.” It appears that Mr. Landesman intends to put this statement to the test.

Big Hollywood will continue to investigate this arts effort.


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