Mar
26

What Happened, President Obama, to the Idea of an Art Czar?

The following updates appeared on Judith H. Dobrzynski’s blog, Real Clear Arts

I know we all want to believe that the Obama Administration will do wonders for the arts and humanities. But so far, the news is not so good.

Yes, the $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts in the stimulus bill was great news. But while we wait for appointments to head the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the appointment of Kareem Dale (below) as mini-czar — which is now likely to be temporary — and two lesser appointments suggest politics-as-usual.

Yes, you heard right- late last week, the White House seems to have appointed an arts czar — but no one seems to have noticed. His name is Kareem Dale, according to a short item in Saturday’s New York Times. As of 1 p.m. on Monday, there’s no press release on WhiteHouse.gov and no reports of the appointment at the Associated Press or Reuters.

I don’t know Mr. Dale, a lawyer from Chicago who is partially blind, but he doesn’t seem to have much of a profile. Searches on Google and Kosmix and in Factiva (which has articles from most major newspapers and many minor ones) turned up very little.

According to published reports, Dale hails from Chicago, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and stayed there to earn a law degree and an MBA, which he received in 1999. He founded and is CEO of The Dale Law Group, which has no website. Campaign finance records show that Dale contributed $2,300 to Obama’s campaign in 2008 (and about the same during the primary season); then he volunteered for it. At some point, he became the campaign’s Disability Vote Director. The only mention of arts I could find was during his campaign volunteer days, when Dale was a member of the campaign Arts Policy Committee, plus service on the board of Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater.

I can’t help but think this is not what many people in the cultural world had in mind when they asked President Obama to appoint a powerful person in the White House to raise the profile of the arts in the U.S.

Another oddity: in mid-February, the White House announced that it had named Dale to the post of Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy. He still seems to hold that post.

Last night, The Daily Beast published my report on this and his appointment is not likely to last very long. It’s sad that his name was discovered by, or leaked to, The New York Times in the first place.

The most disappointing element of the story, however, is the appointment of Hollywood fundraiser Jeremy Bernard as the NEH’s White House and Congressional liaison; it’s an important job. Bernard claims a bachelor’s degree from Hunter College on his website, but Hunter says he did not graduate. When queried, the NEH said the degree is not in his documentation for the appointment. But the whole thing, not just the resume inflation, makes him a bit of an odd fit for the scholarly NEH.

I am pretty sure, by the way, that the White House has recognized this whole situation as a personnel snafu that has to be fixed. And it will — the question now is how and when.

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