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Can Art and Culture Thrive Outside Of Government Oversight?

The Tea Party Movement in Maine is often described in terms of its “radical fringe” which is depicted as a gun-toting crowd. Although I support the right to bear arms, I have never held a gun and yet, based on the general Tea Party Platform, which primarily targets welfare reform as the means by which the size of government should be reduced, I find myself in small company in suggesting a different set of government agencies that deserve to be examined in consideration of reducing the size of government. I have written frequently about state capitalism in Maine and its unconstitutional foundation. The Maine Arts Commission works in conjunction with state capitalism and is a more highly visible player within “the creative economy”

The Maine Arts Commission recently sent a survey, which included its long and short-term vision for arts and culture in Maine. I selected the “other” category in order to describe my interest in arts and culture as a private economy arts related business. In recent years the Maine Arts Commission has become increasingly upfront about primarily serving the non-profit community. In an email earlier this year, the Commission announced that “stimulus” funds were available, but upon clicking on the link one learned that the “stimulus funds are for non-profit organizations only”. The Traditional Arts grant is listed as “giving first priority to non-profits”, a purely political priority, bearing no intrinsic relationship to the practice of traditional arts.

Government activities are funded by the taxpayer, and yet the Maine Arts Commission, which perceives it’s mission as the over seers of Maine arts and culture, gives priority to tax exempt organizations, even when funds involved are purportedly for the purpose of stimulating the economy. From the perspective of a micro-economy business, which has interacted over the years, with numerous non-profit organizations, this is disturbing. When it comes to business practices, I have often found that non-profit organizations exist in a world of their own and often, when given state sanctioned power and authority, re-invent long existing standards to benefit their own interests. This was the case with the Maine Crafts Association, who was authorized to manage a Maine products retail store for the Maine Turnpike Authority and decided that it was appropriate to charge a “jury fee” to crafters for the opportunity to present their work to the buyers for consideration to be sold in the Turnpike retail store. The jury was described as a “panel of experts”, but a request for the identity of those experts never received an answer, which would not have made a difference to our Maine made ceramic business. We have been wholesaling our work to fine stores and galleries for over half a century and have never been asked to pay a “jury fee” in order to show our work to a perspective buyer. This is an approach that separates private economy business practices and those that are re-invented by the tax-exempt community. There are of course exceptions to the rule, within the non-profit sector, but the exceptions that I know of are likewise exceptional in that they do not rely on fundraisers to underwrite their own operations, operations, which are funded instead by functioning on equal terms and practices within the private economy market.

I stand with those that believe in the small government envisioned by the United States founding fathers. Within that context, it is not the function of government to manage arts and culture. Government managed art and culture can be used to advance partisan political ideologies, which the Maine Arts Commission policies confirm with their practicing bias against small privately owned enterprise.

The Maine Arts Commission was created in 1933, in the same era that The Maine Employees Mutual Investment Fund came into being. At that time the Commission was for the purpose of purchasing art for government buildings.
When in 1966 The National Endowment for the Arts was created, the Maine Arts Commission became an arts agency for facilitating the distribution of government grant money. MAC is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The National Endowment for the Arts is currently cited in the report by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for promoting partisan politics. The report alleges, “The White House also leveraged ties to the arts and entertainment community to embed propaganda in the content of television programming and artwork. These propaganda efforts violated appropriations riders and federal law prohibiting the use of appropriated funds for publicity or propaganda purposes”.

The report from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform cites the National Endowment for the Arts as directing the participants to serve the political agenda of the Obama administration, which is now commonly viewed as advancing a socialist “fundamental transformation of America”.

The report from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform states:

I have seen the workings of grant matching in the traditional arts. The governor agrees to fund a project on a matching basis. The governor must be aware that non-profit organizations can channel money from outside to within the state. When the governor offers a matching grant it becomes much easier for the non-profit foundation to attract funds. Whether or not the intrinsic value of the project being funded plays a role in the governor’s decision is pure speculation for those outside the inner decision-making circle. Non-profit organizations undeniably pay a role in channeling money into our state, which has one of the highest numbers of non-profit organizations in the nation.
“NEA is the largest annual national funder of the arts. Funding for artists from NEA is often worth more than the value of the grant - each grant dollar typically generates up to seven times more in matching funds. Neal’s entire budget ($155 million for FY 2009) is derived from federal funds. When Sergeant told participants “we want to encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity,” he was signaling that failure to participate could affect their status as NEA grantees. Not surprisingly, just three days after the August 10 conference call, 21 arts groups signed a press release endorsing the President’s health care plan. Of those, 16 either directly received grants from NEA or are affiliated with groups that received NEA grants within the previous four months.”
The Maine Arts Commission receives grants from the NEA. It is in partnership with the non-profit foundation, The New England Foundation for the Arts, also funded by the NEA. The Maine Arts Commission is a funder of “Culture Count” the database for the non-profit New England Foundation for the Arts. All of the state art agencies in New England are partners and funders and most likely, they all have their own databases, which do not entail a user terms of agreement as is the case with The Maine Arts Commission. This begs the question “what is the reason for a centralized database for all of New England? Is it so difficult to search each individual state’s database separately that investing in the expense of a central database is justified? - Or could it be that there are laws prohibiting the use of user terms of agreement for government agencies that might explain why neither the Maine Arts Commission nor the National Endowment for the Arts have a User Terms of Agreement, where as the non-profit foundation known as The New England Foundation for the Arts has such an agreement? I have read on the NEFA website that if one is willing to pay the price of entry that one can gain access therein to a treasury of grant information. By choice, the price far outweighs the temptation to feast on the promised fruit of knowledge. I cannot comment on what lies beyond acceptance of the User Terms of Agreement. Speculatively, centralization lowers cost of maintaining a grants related database, but that does not explain or justify the price of admittance to the inner database of grant information.

I have been questioning the New England Foundation for the Arts, Terms of Agreement, since 2007. This agreement grants to the NEA unrestricted copyrights over work that is published in it’s data base, including work that is “deep-linked” to any website listed on its database. I have no idea what the term “deep-link” implies- nor is that term defined in the user terms of agreement. While NEFA grants unto itself the right to “deep-link” to any page on a site listed in its database, it prohibits the user from deep –linking to any page of NEFA, permitting only links to its home page. By claiming rights over the work submitted to its database, including the right to alter the work, the New England Foundation For the Arts is undermining private ownership, which can arguably be considered as an act advancing a political agenda. Put this together with the bias against privately owned micro-businesses that the Maine Arts Commission demonstrates in its policies and there starts to be evidence of a pattern – one that is more compatible with socialism and collective ownership than it is with the individual rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. The collusion of government and non-profit organizations raises the question; if a government agency forms a partnership with a non-governmental entity, what laws govern the partnership? - Laws pertaining to government – or laws pertaining to non–government?

The Maine Arts Commission has recently announced that it will use, not it’s own database, but the New England Foundation for the Arts database to process grants. The Maine Arts Commission contributes funds to the NEFA data base-, which means the Maine Taxpayer funds the non-profit organization, NEFA. The National Endowment for the Arts funds the Maine Arts Commission and the New England Foundation for the Arts, which means the United States taxpayer is also funding Culture Count, the database developed by NEFA, which claims unrestricted and unreasonable rights over submitted material and also requires that the user agree to never sue NEFA for any reason- moral or over intellectual property rights –or otherwise.

In the years since 2007 I have contacted both the NEFA and the Maine Arts Commission concerning my objections to NEFA’s terms of agreement. I have received rhetorical responses but the Terms of Agreement remained unchanged. There was one change - that is the name of “Community Logic” which is described as “an information technologies provider for cultural organizations and foundations.” It was formerly called “Cultural Logic”. After I mentioned in a blog that “Cultural Logic" is also the name of an online Marxist magazine, the name was changed to “Community Logic”. In 2007, I counted 45 professionals from United States universities listed as contributors to Cultural Logic. The university culture is also a source from which government art agencies derive their employees.

I haven’t followed the Small Business “stimulus bill” in great detail but I heard a senator explain that he was against it because it was a small business “Tarp” which would allow the federal government to take over ownership of small businesses just as it took over ownership of large auto companies. In light of the New England Foundation for the Arts Terms of Agreement, this seems consistent with an insidious movement towards socialism that is underway in this country. The NEFA Terms of agreement grants itself rights over any work accessible on a website listed in the collective database funded by the government art bureaucracies of New England. The Database is not limited to what is traditionally considered to be “the arts” but is encouraging all “cultural organizations” to list, which requires accepting the terms of agreement. Considering the radical direction in which this country has rapidly progressed since I first encounter’s the NEFA Terms of Agreement in 2007, this is not a matter to be taken lightly. This database potentially targets every small business in New England, and through the user terms of agreement claims a shared ownership in anything that is published therein or by which there is a connection through “deep-linking”. Small businesses are the seeds that become larger businesses and so the “cultural logic” of the Terms of Agreement has huge future implications that are directly impacted by the social, economic, and political direction into which our nation develops.

The arts are a wonderful and meaningful part of life. They have always existed and will always exist. It is a mistake to expand government management of art and culture. All the more so in the current political climate- and not to mention the huge deficits that need to be reduced at both the federal and state levels. If government management is extracted from Maine arts and culture, Art will find it’s own way. Art is an eternal part of human nature. It cannot be destroyed, but it can be filtered and directed through and by political and cultural means.


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