Film Producer Accuses NEA of Enlisting Artists to Push Obama's Domestic Agenda

A 39-year-old Los Angeles film producer is accusing the National Endowment for the Arts of initiating a "call to action" to artists to support President Obama's domestic agenda.

The film producer, Patrick Courrielche, said he was one of roughly 75 artists, musicians, writers, poets and others on an Aug. 10 conference call hosted by the NEA, the White House Office of Public Engagement and United We Serve, a nationwide initiative launched by Obama to increase volunteerism.

Courrielche said officials on the hour-long call -- including NEA Director of Communications Yosi Sergant and Michael Skolnik, political director for hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons -- encouraged the artists on the line to create works of art in their respective fields related to health care, energy and the environment.

"What I heard was a well thought-out pitch to encourage artists to create art on these issues," Courrielche told "We were told we were consulted for a reason, and they specifically stated those issues as the issues we should focus on, to plant the seed. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see what they're attempting to do."

The NEA did not respond to several requests for comment, but others familiar with the conference call dispute Courrielche's version of events, saying the purpose was a broad pitch for artworks on the theme of public service.

Siobhan Dugan, a spokeswoman for United We Serve, said the call was organized by an "individual interested" in the group and was unable to provide a list of those invited to participate on the call.

"The service that we are encouraging through United We Serve is taking place with no direct tie to any policy initiative, but instead focuses on the areas of the greatest need of our nation and our neighborhoods," Dugan said in a statement to

Thomas Bates, vice president of civic engagement for Rock the Vote, confirmed to he was on the call, saying he was invited by officials at United We Serve. He doesn't agree with Courrielche that there was a political undercurrent.

"I don't remember it that way," Bates said. "The call I was on was about engaging artists in ongoing service projects, including on Sept. 11."

Bates said his participation in the call revolved around a proposed service event in Chicago that his organization had considered. He did not elaborate.

Told of Bates' denial that artists were encouraged to produce art in certain areas, Courrielche said he omitted an "essential, specific aspect" of the conference call.

"The word volunteerism was never used," Courrielche said. "Service was the word being used and it was in specific areas, those being health care, energy and the environment."

Courrielche said the now ubiquitous Obama "Hope" poster by artist Shepard Fairey and musician's "Yes We Can" song and music video were offered as "shining examples" of the artist group's clear impact on Obama's landslide election.

The "potential propaganda machine," Courrielche said, is concerning on many levels.

"The issue that troubles me the most is that the NEA was set up to promote the arts," he said. "If you have a meeting where you're trying to set up a machine that does your bidding, a propaganda machine, that's not what the National Endowment for Arts is for."

Moderators on the conference call did not specify whether any piece of subsequent artwork should be supportive or critical of the president's agenda in key areas like health care and the environment.

"For me, it was implied," said Courrielche, adding he felt the NEA "tainted" the artistic process.

Courrielche, who said he took extensive notes during the call, recalled one particular passage he attributed to Skolink, who acted a moderator on the call.

"So what I had hoped in bringing this group together," Skolnik said, according to Courrielche, "with the great hosts that again I want to thank for reaching out to their communities, was that we could begin to bring together our community in the same enthusiasm, with the same enthusiasm, and with the same energy that we all saw each other during the campaign, and we continue to work together on issues as important as United We Serve, and service, and begin here and continue to work together on other issues that we feel are important as was mentioned, some of them health care and others."

Courrielche also wrote up his experiences for Big Hollywood.

Reached by on Friday, Skolnik declined to comment for this story.

Dugan said the group was not aware of the conference call leading to any new artwork or campaigns.

"Organizations and people from all political persuasions and beliefs continue to support community service as one part of the solution to the economic crisis and the recovery efforts," she said. "There are no government funds provided or funding incentives given to organizations or individuals to participate or encourage community service as part of United We Serve."

Courrielche, who said he felt compelled to speak out about the call, said unidentified members of the press were also on the call.

"I felt like I needed to say something about it," he said. "Now I think if [a piece of art] comes out, you have to question it, did it come from this meeting? This is the exact argument for why an agency like this shouldn't exist."