President Clinton made good on his intention to revitalize the dormant President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities by appointing Ellen McCulloch-Lovell executive director in early February. McCulloch-Lovell, former chief of staff for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and former executive director of the Vermont Council on the Arts, will head a committee – unnamed at press time – composed of the heads of federal agencies with cultural programs and members of the private sector. The President is committed to government support for both [the NEA and NEH],” McCulloch-Lovell said. “He is also committed to increasing private support and looking for creative ways that both sectors can combine to keep our cultural life vital.”
The sentiment in favor of public-private partnership was echoed by House Interior Appropriations subcommittee member Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), a guest at the quarterly meeting of the National Council on the Arts in February. (NEA chairman Jane Alexander had also invited Republican senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, whose schedule kept him from attending.) Alexander highlighted the local impact of a $420,000 NEA grant for a new performing arts complex in Dicks’s Tacoma district, prompting the congressman to comment on “how important the catalytic quality of [NEA] support has been for the state of Washington. Tell [Politicians] about the importance of the arts in each of these communities.”
More vigorous levels
Shortly after the council meeting, President Clinton submitted his fiscal year 1995 budget to Congress, recommending current level funding for the NEA ($170.2 million), NEH ($177.5 million) and Institute of Museum Services ($28.8 million). Because of an increase in the NEA’s administrative allocation, the president’s level request, if passed, would actually reduce Program funds, including a $50,000 cut to the Theater Program, a $25,000 cut to the Opera-musical Theater Program and a $98,000 cut to the Challenge Program.
“With literally hundreds of federal programs slated for reductions in the coming fiscal year, I am measurably heartened by an FY ’95 budget request that maintains funding for the NEA at current levels,” said chairman Alexander. “I hope that, as the economy continues to recover and the budget deficit is brought under control, Our nation will restore funding for the arts to more vigorous levels.”
American Arts Alliance chairman Robert P. Bergman, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, responded to the Clinton Administration’s FY’95 budget proposal. “In the current climate of drastic budget cuts and the elimination of many federal programs, we are pleased that the President recognizes the importance of the arts to this country and left intact the budgets of three of these vital cultural agencies,” he said, adding that “the Alliance will work in Washington and in communities across the country toward increasing national funding for the arts and humanities.
What the arts can do
“The arts merit government support because they help to fulfill multiple national goals,” Bergman continued. “They instill values by helping people reconnect to their spirituality; bring people together through a universality that transcends deep differences and divisions in an increasingly diverse society; improve education by helping to impart knowledge, enhance cognitive development, improve analytical thinking and motivation, inspire teamwork, and help create self-esteem; and stimulate the economy through their positive impact on job creation, tax-base enhancement, increased tourism, improved community development and growth of auxiliary service jobs.”
Shortly before the President’s 1995 budget request was issued, the House of Representatives defeated an amendment to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Earthquake Assistance Bill, which would have included a $15-million cut to federally funded arts and humanities by reducing the 1994 budgets of the NEA, NEH, Smithsonian Institution, National Gallery of Art and Corporation for Public Broadcasting by 2 percent each. The amendment lost by a vote of 240 to 178 on Feb. 3. Barbara Janowitz
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION WATCH
Is the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima too hot a topic for the youngsters of Lancaster, Pa.? Responding to a citizen’s complaint, the county commissioners stopped payment on about $11,000 in funding for a Fulton Theatre Company touring production of Kathryn Schultz Miller’s A Thousand Cranes. The widely produced drama for young audiences tells the story of a 12-year-old Japanese girl with leukemia who folds origami cranes for the cause of world peace. Objections to the play’s “anti-American propaganda message” led the commission to withhold payment, threatening Fulton’s 1994 tour to 45 schools, before reinstating the grant following widespread support for the theatre.
Pennsylvania’s Cheltenham Center for the Arts found itself in the center of a controversy caused by its recent production of Karen Sunde’s La Pucelle, staged by artistic director Ken Marini. The play’s focus on a dream-state dialogue between Joan of Arc and a stand-up comedian who has lost faith in God offended some 200 Roman Catholics, who attended a meeting of the Cheltenham board of commissioners and convinced them to publicly condemn the play. Although the commissioners warned the theatre that local funding would stop “unless they clean up their act,” they actually voted only to “request” the Center to close the play. A motion to withdraw more than $20,000 in township funds to the Center failed.
The Finley v. NEA case was back in court in early February. Attorneys for the U.S. justice Department gave oral arguments supporting the Clinton Administration’s appeal of the 1992 ruling that struck down as unconstitutionally vague the NEA’s 1990 statute that grants comply with “general standards of decency and respect for all the diverse beliefs and values of the American public.” The suit, initially filed by performance artists Karen Finley, John Fleck, Holly Hughes and Tim Miller, challenged the constitutionality of the so-called “decency clause” mandated by Congress. Although the Suit was settled out of court last year for $252,000, the decision was appealed by the justice Department first under the Bush Administration, but then continued after the election of Bill Clinton. The government’s appeal argues that since “concerns of decency will be taken care of as long as there is diversity on the [peer] panel,” they are only tangential to the grant process and cannot be construed as a governmental effort to control speech. A decision is not expected for several months.