Art War Reinitiated

NEA Communications Director Yosi Sergant is the most recent casualty in the reinstated right-wing attack on the arts, according to multiple reports.

Sergant has been accused of promoting a political (pro-Obama, pro-democrat) agenda in NEA project initiatives.  The apparent impetus for the right’s criticism of Sergant was a conference call in which he reportedly suggested the creation of artwork promoting certain policies associated with the present administration, such as healthcare.  In less extreme times it would hardly seem like grounds for dismissal.  Nevertheless, Sergant was relieved of his communications duties and subsequently resigned on September 24th.

This time around, rather than accusing the Endowment of promoting pornography and immorality, right-wing media demagogues have attacked it on political speech grounds.  The main idea, apparently, is that the NEA should not promote the policies of the government of which it is a part, nor discuss them.  Considering the manner in which the previous presidential administration sought to extend its agenda, it’s a hypocritical position at best.

The autonomy of the NEA, and its job of distributing funding to art organizations and artists is vital to supporting the social/cultural dialogue that is the most important component of the arts.  A politically motivated assault on the NEA is no less than an attack on our ability to express that critical speech.

While in some ways, past attacks on the NEA and the arts in general may be interpreted as having been based upon a lack of education in the arts, this situation is not that.  Rather, the aggressors do understand art to the extent that they perceive a power there–critical speech that they seek to subvert. They also want to make a strike on the Obama administration, in any area that they perceive a weakness, and the NEA has proven to be a soft target in the past.  This is clear, but if we want to have an inclusive and progressive society now is the time to take a stand against bullying attacks on the arts.

ABC News:  Yosi Sergant Resigns

Washington Post:  Yosi Sergant Resigns from NEA

Huffington Post: Yosi Sergant Resigns

Chairman Landesman’s statement on the conference call

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