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Chairman Cole's Confession

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on February 11, 2019 18:14

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ART FROM THE SWAMP: How Washington Bureaucrats Squander Millions on Awful Art (NY: Encounter Books, 2018)

I was initially disappointed that former NEH Chairman Bruce Cole's posthumous manifesto was not a "tell-all" memoir about the metastatic spread of Political Correctness in the decade following 9/11.

Indeed, there was little in Art from the Swamp (99 pages of text) about the National Endowment for the Humanities itself, which Professor Cole headed longer than anyone else, from 2001-2008.

Likewise, not much about 9/11, Islamic Fundamentalism, the Global War on Terror, or the Bush administration. I couldn't even find the terms "PC" or "Political Correctness" in the index.

Instead, there were three articles which might have appeared in The New Criterion: the first moaning about Frank Gehry's Eisenhower Memorial; the second whining about the GSA's Art in Architecture program; the last complaining about the National Endowment for the Arts.

Cole's dispiriting conclusion: "Even with trails of awful artworks in their wakes and track records of dubious practices, they're not going anywhere." 

Nevertheless, he called for change: "Our efforts must go to reform, to preventing the same mistakes from the past from happening again...we can begin to demand that our art be created through fair and open commissioning processes, that wasteful spending be reined in, and the art that is created reflects our national values."

Then it hit me.

Cole's book may have been his deathbed confession. At a time when American civilization was challenged by Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and Islamic Fundamentalism to lead the world in another direction...the Bush administration had ducked.

The National Endowment for the Humanities failed to defend Renaissance Humanism from Medieval Barbarism, while headed by an expert in Renaissance Art, Chairman Cole.

During his tenure, NEH may have funded some worthwhile efforts such as digitization of newspapers, but didn't successfully defend America in the "Clash of Civilizations" against the new Dark Ages.

So, his missing chapter on the National Endowment for the Humanities may have served as Cole's deathbed confession. 

Cole did leave a clue to the problem--government secrecy. He documents secret panels, secret votes, secret evaluations, and non-disclosure agreements. I wondered whether Chairman Cole had signed an NDA himself.

Thus taxpayers, even Congress, are unable to find out exactly what the US government is doing, until it is too late. 

This is a no way to conduct honest scholarship, art, or government.

Excessive secrecy is an invitation to graft and corruption. Ugly art reflects a rotten system, what Cole called "the Swamp."

Maybe, on his deathbed, Chairman Cole was begging for renewed Congressional investigations of the Endowments and GSA "to demand that our art be created through fair and open commissioning processes?"

Ending Non-Disclosure Agreements at GSA and the Endowments might be a first step, perhaps Chairman Cole's legacy, leading to a Renaissance in the arts and humanities, in the spirit of Justice Brandeis, who declared:

"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."

 

Laurence Jarvik

Posted on February 11, 2019 18:14

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Source: SF Gate

President Trump has proposed the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities,...

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