Part 3: THE CALL
So, coming out of that meeting, there's an open call from the arts community for more conversation and collaboration from the administration and within the arts/community service sector.
Meanwhile, the administration is pushing their summer-long community service initiative. Serve.gov. United We Serve. Someone organizes another conference call based around the idea of community service and volunteering. The participants on this call are some of the same people that were at the white house, and some new people from arts and media. It's not clear to me who set this call up--it might have been Russell Simmons' political director. Yosi might have invited some additional folks.
When you read the transcript, it's clear that the service project is the focus of the call. Mike Skonick picks up on the previous conversations in noting that artists are generally aligned with the obama administration on some things and on other things they want to push Obama on and lobby him about. He says that he thinks the best place to start organizing is the United We Serve campaign, and he invited people to tell them more about it.
Buffy Wicks is the first invited speaker to talk--she's in the public outreach part of the white house. She's also buddies with a lot of the LA Probama artists dating back to when she was a field organizer. She is pretty straightforward in thanking them for getting her where she is and straightforward in letting them know what she's asking people to do. She starts out describing the national service initiative and says that she wants people who've never volunteered before to get more involved in volunteering, hopefully leading to a lifetime of volunteering. She explains that she's worked with federal agencies to find issues where volunteerism is needed. Here she mentions the 4 areas they're suggesting for new volunteers to get involved. This is the first and only time we have any specifics around health care. She suggests preventive care and child nutrition as opportunities worth letting people know about. Then she mentions the environment. Specific ideas include weatherizing homes & trail maintenance! Then she mentions education! Here she suggests being a summer reading tutor! Finally she mentions "community renewal" things like food banks and homeless shelters.
I am not sure how these volunteering suggestions are partisan or controversial. But her specific ask is to get the pro-volunteering message out, maybe direct people to the resources that have been created to hook people up with volunteer opportunities, or create their own! There is no mention of policy.
Nell Abernathy talks next, she works for the corporation for national service. She talks about her 3 general goals:
1 )making community service options more accessible; making it easier to be a volunteer so people who want to help and don't know how can get involved.
2) creating a strong on the ground presence in local communities, so volunteers can more easily hooked up with local organizations.
3) sharing peoples individual stories of volunteerism through arts and media in a way that can inspire more volunteering! this is what she asks for artists help with.
Yosi speaks next. He thanks people for the work they're already doing, and acknowledges their shared history of working together on the campaign. He lays it out this way. There's big organizations like Habitat for Humanity and the Red Cross that are doing great work. They need the support of arrtists and media know how to move people to action in their communities. He mentions things like adopting an alley and donating blood. His specific ask: "we want you to take an action--what it looks like is completely up to you." He suggests three routes of action for them to be message spreaders
1. Use serve.gov to talk about whatever cool volunteer project they decide to do.
2. donate your unique creative skills...eg if you're a graphic designer, donate your design skills to someone in your community and encourage others to do the same
3. don't just participate in service, but document it, and share it with the world--talk about it, take videos, photos, blog about it etc.
He mentions that this is all new territory, working together with artists on service, but whatever area they choose, apply their creative skills.
Thomas Bates from Rock the Vote talks next. He mentions as an example of what they're talking about, an artist who is doing a community clean up project where people pick up all their neighborhood's garbage and bring it to a site where the artist makes the garbage into "something of a community monument" to symbolize service and community revitalization. (Frankly this sounds like bad art, but hardly politically controversial).
Then they open the floor for questions. It's mostly nuts-and-bolts stuff about emails to continue the conversation, tech questions about embeddable widgits. The last, and frankly the only controversial question comes from Liz Ban who asks essentially, what about those of us who want to go beyond volunteering to advocacy, and do organizing around supporting the president's policy initiatives. Nell explains that united we serve is a bipartisan initiative so it's not about legislation at all. So if artists or organizers want to do that, they'd need to get in touch with OFA instead --if that's what artists are looking to do the national service people are not able to do anything more than point them to the right person. Skolnik mentions the guy's name in charge of that, wraps it up and thanks everyone for their time. End of call.
So; pretty uncontroversial stuff. You have a bunch of former allies from the obama campaign whose roles have maybe shifted but they're uniting their artistic and creative talents behind this national service initiative.
At no time is funding for artists or arts organizations discussed.
The only time policy debates come up, the administration official explains that they're supporting a bipartisan service initiative and if you're looking to use your art to influence policy debate you'd need to talk to a different group.
Edited by Holy Moly!, 22 September 2009 - 12:32 AM.