Posted on August 29, 2009

wpa06No one gets something for nothing; no one. During the Renaissance, patrons of the arts funded artists but also told them what they wanted. has reported a story of a California film producer, PR man and etc., Patrick Courrielche and a teleconference in which he participated organized by the NEA, The White House Office of Public Engagement and United We Serve, a nationwide initiative launched by Obama to increase volunteerism.  Courrielche characterized the exercise as being a government telling artists (some 70 in attendance) to produce art in their respective disciplines in support of specific areas such as health care, the environment and energy.

Courrielche with a PR meister’s sensitivity to promotion, sensed something was amiss in this governmental push.  Was that a hint of propaganda in the air? Further, he was taken aback by the fact that the NEA, an independent federal agency supporting artists and arts organizations and bringing the arts to all Americans (fr0m NEA website) had been among the supporters of the event.

Government involvement in the arts has a long history in this country as well as in Europe.  During the Great Depression, FDR helped create the Works Progress Administration to put people to work. Certain visionary U.S. politicians decided to combine the creativity of the new art movements with the values of the American people. To this end, the Federal Art Project was created within the Works Progress Administration to put artists to work.  They produced a lot of grand scale “public art” in railroad stations, in art galleries and in many other types of public structures as well as smaller compositions such as illustrations for books.

“American Values” in the US of the 1930s with a more homogeneous  European population were more easily and generally agreed upon.  Today, “American values” seem to be a moving target – up for debate and for some, up for reformulation. It is less a question of demonstrating through art what they “are” than demonstrating through art what they could or should be.  This is the disconnect that perhaps contributed to Mr. Courrielche’s discomfort.

We are living through a paradigm shift and it pops up from the floorboards and startles us in areas we don’t expect. However, paradigm shift or not, the gathering together of  PR people from the NEA, a White House off ice of any description and a representative of an organization promoting volunteerism is an odd thought to have never mind action to take.  In the end, it’s a lot like an artist, a politician and a patron of the arts getting together for lunch – everyone knows the bill will come….

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