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New Book From Andrew Klavan:
The Identity Man

Eye on the News

Andrew Klavan
The Art of Corruption
The National Endowment for the Arts violates its founding principle.
21 September 2009

There are all kinds of corruption. Some are pretty easy to identify. You can’t miss it when a congressman sells the public’s vote for money, say, or a husband sets his personal promises at nothing in order to score some extracurricular sex. But the slow rot that enters the soul of individuals when the tendrils of the state overcreep the life of a society—that’s a little tougher to define. It may just be the toadying deference that steals into your behavior with the guard who searches you at the airport. Or it could be the baksheesh you pay the safety inspector to keep your business from being shut down. But as subtle as the effects may be, the rule is ironclad: the more areas of life are funded and regulated by government, the less free you are, and the more corrupt and servile you ultimately become.

Through the work of artist and blogger Patrick Courrielche, Andrew Breitbart’s new website Big Government—reporting the news so the mainstream media won’t have to—has just released a sickening transcript of an August 10 conference call jointly hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts, the White House’s Office of Public Engagement, and United We Serve, an initiative overseen by the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. The purpose of the call was to urge a group of pro-Obama artists to get out there and start creating art that would support the president’s agenda on health care, the environment, education, and community services. Speaking at the request of “folks in the White House and folks in the NEA,” Michael Skolnick, political director for Obama-mad hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, told the assembled artists, “All of us who are on this phone call were selected for a reason, and you are the ones that lead by example in your communities. You are the thought leaders. You are the ones that, if you create a piece of art, or promote a piece of art or create a campaign for a company, and tell our country and our young people sort of what do and what to be into, and what’s cool and what’s not cool.”

As an artist, I feel it incumbent upon myself to pause here to become violently ill. Never mind that the phone call may have broken several lobbying laws. Forget that the NEA’s Yosi Sergant is now proven to have lied when he denied the NEA’s role in initiating the call. Let’s not even concern ourselves with the fact that White House official Buffy Wicks directed the artists to channel their efforts through Serve.gov, a White House website with ties to the corrupt Acorn.

No, let’s just talk about art. It’s hard out here on us creative types right now. When times are tough, truth and beauty sink pretty low on the national shopping list. The NEA, according to its own website, is “the nation’s largest annual funder of the arts.” It gives tens of millions of dollars a year in grants to artists and art organizations. It does this, according to the legislation that established it, to “help create and sustain not only a climate encouraging freedom of thought, imagination, and inquiry but also the material conditions facilitating the release of this creative talent.” It is there, in other words, to protect artists’ freedom from the corrupting influence of financial deprivation.

The transcript of this phone call proves that the NEA has deeply betrayed that mission. Corrupted by the White House, it has moved to corrupt the artists who look to it for their daily bread. It doesn’t matter that it didn’t actually offer these artists money in exchange for propaganda; its very presence on the line constituted an implied offer of access. It doesn’t matter that the artists on the call were already Obama supporters. Simply by presenting a mission that excluded those who did not support the president’s agenda, the NEA violated the very first principle of its establishing legislation: “The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States.”

And whether or not these artists will bite into the apple of governmental corruption—whether or not they’ll allow their creativity to be guided by the blandishments of the state—the phone call is proof of the depths of this administration’s intentions to corrupt. It seeks, as statist government always seeks, to modify and control human behavior through the doling out and withholding of money and favor. And in seeking to enlist the arts, it has taken this overbearing and ultimately corrupting practice to the deepest and most spiritual level we know.

Andrew Klavan is a City Journal contributing editor and the author of such best-selling novels as Don’t Say a Word and Empire of Lies. His latest book is The Last Thing I Remember.

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