"NEWLY REVEALED DOCUMENTS Contradict NEA Chairman Landesman
“The former NEA Director of Communications acted unilaterally and without the approval or authorization of then-Acting Chairman Patrice Walker Powell.” – Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, on September 22, 2009
Chairman Landesman’s claim that Yosi Sergant, the former NEA Communications Director, acted “unilaterally” on the controversial August 10th conference call is not only beginning to erode, but new documents obtained by Judicial Watch under the Freedom of Information Act show that another federal employee thought the arts effort was entering murky legal waters.
In an email dated July 30, 2009, Nellie Abernathy, a representative of the federal program United We Serve, sent an email to Sergant to inquire of his interest in attending a meeting regarding 9/11 events – the culmination day of the United We Serve campaign. In the email Abernathy states (emphasis added):
“Just got off the phone with [redacted]. They’re interested in helping produce some 9/11 events and will be in DC next week. Any chance you could join us for a meeting Tuesday morning? Or does this fall into that sketchy grey we might get arrested area?”
Sergant responded, “I’d love to.”
The subject of the email correspondence was entitled “rock the vote,” which presumably should have been redacted (blacked out) in the subject line given that the organization is a non-government group and the other subject lines in the email chain were redacted.
Readers following this story may recall that Rock the Vote was a presenter on the controversial August 10th conference call that encouraged an arts group that worked on Obama’s election campaign to create art on issues that were being vehemently debated nationally; including health care, energy, and the environment. As a presenter Bates stated the following, “We just wanted to give you one quick tangible example of things that can be done.” Bates then went on to explain how Rock the Vote was considering having an artist create an art installation from urban waste to engage young people “on the issue of a new environmental movement.”
Rock the Vote is a non-profit voter registration organization that is frequently involved in partisan political activity – a conflict that Abernathy appears to address in her email correspondence with Sergant. Eleven days after the August 10th conference call, Rock the Vote announced a health care design competition. The contest announcement read:
“We can’t stand by and listen to lies and deceit coming from those who are against reforming a broken system…We need designs that tell the country YES WE CARE! Young people demand health care now.”
The new FOIA documents also show that additional federal employees were aware of this arts effort, including another NEA employee by the name of Elizabeth Stark. Email correspondence between Abernathy, Sergant, and Stark show that a United We Serve meeting was arranged by Stark for Sergant.
Philip Martin, an outreach coordinator for United We Serve, also appears in the FOIA documents, showing that he was aware of Sergant’s efforts and was working with him on another arts outreach program in Philadelphia. The federal employees that were aware of this arts effort continue to grow and now include Yosi Sergant (NEA), Elizabeth Stark (NEA), Nellie Abernathy (United We Serve), Philip Martin (United We Serve), Buffy Wicks (White House Office of Public Engagement), and Kalpen Modi (White House Office of Public Engagement).
Chairman Landesman’s claim that Sergant acted “unilaterally” is becoming harder to swallow."