The Playgoer: The Fake NEA "Whistleblower"

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Fake NEA "Whistleblower"

It shouldn't surprise us that the source of the whole NEA faux-outrage ruckus last month is himself severely tarnished by biased political associations. ArtNet's Ben Davis digs up the goods on one Patrick Courrielche, the "whistleblower" featured by Fox News who somehow was in on the infamous NEA conference call that sought partnership with various artists in some community-building programs.

So who is this guy?

Invariably when Courrielche gets introduced, he is described as a "filmmaker." I am not sure what his filmmaking credentials are. He runs a small viral marketing firm, Inform Ventures, which stages artistic events -- contests, festivals and the like -- to promote various international corporations and their products. Perhaps he is referring to Stomping Grounds, a 2007 clip featuring Biz Markie, which Inform Ventures put together to promote Toyota’s Scion brand. I don’t know about you, but I call that a "commercial." In other words, all Courrielche’s platitudes about protecting the arts from outside manipulation are so much hot air. This guy manipulates artists for a living. Yoking artistic communities to inscrutable institutions is his bread and butter.


With regard to Courrielche’s mingling of politics and marketing, it is also worth noting the fact that his first major intervention as a conservative art commentator was an essay titled "The Artist Formerly Known as Dissident," in which he championed the anonymous "Obama / Joker / Socialism" posters that appeared around Los Angeles earlier this year. Somewhat improbably, Courrielche defended the posters as an example of speaking truth to power, dismissing claims that the image was racially provocative and claiming that the artist remained anonymous because he was intimidated by the intolerance of the liberal art establishment.
Even worse, Courrielche seems to have a biased and very personal grievance against the NEA's Yosi Sergant, who he basically got ousted from his post in NEA communications.
[T]he two men worked together. Sergant’s LinkedIn page even still lists his job as "Marketing Manager" at Inform Ventures. It’s a small company, consisting of, at any given time, Courrielche, his wife and one or two assistants. Did it just slip Courrielche’s mind during his many media appearances that the man he was demonizing was a former co-worker?

According to an acquaintance of Sergant’s, Robert Greene, when he met Sergant in 2006, his story was that he had left the Scion campaign because of his increasing commitment to environmentalism and bike culture (Sergant’s strong commitment to biking is almost the first thing mentioned about him in a 2008 L.A. Weekly profile.) On the other hand, the word on the street in L.A. is that the break was bitter, and involved Courrielche accusing Sergant of stealing information from him. Sergant went on to work for a rival lifestyle marketing firm, Evolutionary Media Group, which consulted for the Obama campaign early on.

Whether the break was ideological or personal, this kind of baggage lends Courrielche’s whole ongoing crusade the ugly aura of a personal vendetta. To be sure, he’s moved on from Sergant now, but the background is important because Courrielche’s initial account of the conference call -- arguably what made it a big deal -- involved deliberately distorting quotes from Sergant to make it sound as if he were knowingly organizing something illegal. (Courrielche didn’t respond to an email requesting that he comment on the relationship.)

This guy kind of reminds me of those FBI plants who would infiltrate civil rights org's, hippies, and campus radical groups in the 60s. Not to sound paranoid, but--who knows what "art narcs" may be out there now?

(Hat tip: Kendt)

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