Grant recipient alleged to be a cult

Aesthetic Realism Foundation to receive $4,000 in state budget

Albany Times-Union/April 21, 2008

Albany - Assemblyman Felix Ortiz has set up a $4,000 member item for a SoHo organization that says it has the answer to finding happiness, but which former members say is a cult.

Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, targeted the money for the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, whose program, according to ex-members, is anti-gay and employs strategies that split up families. Ortiz said he sponsored the expenditure in the 2008-2009 budget because the group asked him for funding for services at Brooklyn senior citizen centers.

He said he did not know anything about the foundation but he had heard good things about it from Raices, a Brooklyn-based senior services organization to which he has sent $2,000 in member items annually for several years. AR hasn't received public funding in the 13 years it has been providing senior programs in New York City.

According to former child member Michael Bluejay, who runs a Web site for fellow ex-members to share their experiences, the followers of AR and its founder, Eli Siegel, try to recruit the elderly by using art, theater, poetry and cultural lectures to get their views across in community appearances. Once they become members, he said, followers are discouraged from having relationships with nonmembers.

"When you're in it and you don't see your parents for 15 years, that's hurtful," he said. His parents and grandparents were devotees, he said.

AR spokeswoman Devorah Tarrow, who has been with the group for 36 years, said Bluejay is putting forth lies. She said the $4,000 is for workshops at senior citizen centers in Brooklyn, including some for people who speak Spanish or Chinese.

Tarrow said it isn't true that AR says it can change homosexuality.

"It is a fact that men and women have changed as a result of study of Aesthetic Realism," she said, saying the purpose of the foundation and the senior talks "was to have a good effect on senior lives. That is actually the purpose of the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, to encourage the lives of elderly persons to be more energized."

Bluejay quotes from the writings of a leader of the group, including, "It is a beautiful fact that through study of Aesthetic Realism men have changed from homosexuality. Eli Siegel's statement of the cause of homosexuality (contempt for the world) is scientific law."

Rich A. Ross, who tracks cults for a living, backs Bluejay's assessment and said public funds should not be used for a group with such a narrow agenda.

"It's a very specific philosophy," Ross said. "Why would taxpayer money be used to fund that?"

Ortiz said the foundation asked other lawmakers for funding. It did not approach its own Assembly member, Deborah Glick, an openly gay Democrat. She said she would have denied the request.

"Not now, not ever," she said.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.