The National Council on the Arts, the presidentially appointed advisory body for the National Endowment for the Arts, set off yet another NEA controversy in late January when it overturned two Visual Arts grants that had been recommended by the peer review panel. The Franklin Furnace Archive, a New York avant-garde art center, was denied a $25,000 grant for its upcoming visual arts program. ming while Highways, a Los Angeles gallery, lost a recommended $5,000 grant, as a result of sexually explicit materials submitted with their applications.
After viewing 15 minutes of a 70-minute tape of performance artist Scarlet O’s appearance at the space, the council voted 17-1 to reject the Franklin Furnace grant application. “I’m a champion of the avant-garde and respond to what’s going on sexually today,” said council member Wendy Luers, “but the tape had no artistic merit. Had it been someone’s work like Mapplethorpe I would have been bleeding down the table to support it, because it would have been artistically significant. If Martha chose to submit that video, she did it for a reason. And I had no choice other than to vote against it.”
The Highways gallery grant was overturned by a closer 10-7 vote with one abstention. The 25 photographs that had been submitted with the gallery’s application were felt by the council to be of mixed quality and raised questions about the quality of judgment about work the gallery might present in the future.
Poet and council member Donald Hall, the sole council member who voted against rejecting the Franklin Furnace grant, defended the panel’s recommendation during the council session, saying, “I would actually prefer to follow the panel and that is what I think the honorable thing is to do. To act out of fear of what will be said of us is beneath our dignity and beneath the dignity of the arts. If we have panels which are making aesthetic judgments, who are themselves chosen because they have the knowledge within their own fields, I think we should trust them and stand behind them, believing that their judgments are better informed than our own.”
The Visual Arts Program panel that initially recommended the grants saw only two minutes of the Scarlet O videotape submitted by Franklin Furnace. The panel did not view the entire tape because they did not consider a performance tape relevant to a visual arts application. But panel chairman Renny Pritikin, director of a San Francisco exhibition space, told the Washington Post that he didn’t think the sexual content would have bothered the panelists. Pritikin sent a letter of protest to the council, suggesting that the grant should not have been overturned on the basis of the videotape alone regardless of its artistic merit, but that the application in its entirety should have been considered.
The federal budget for fiscal year ’93 that President Bush presented to Congress in late January included the Administration’s appropriation request of $176 million for the NEA, an amount that would maintain federal arts funding at the 1992 appropriation level. In contrast, the National Endowment for the Humanities received a request for $187.1 million for 1993 a 6.3 percent increase for the agency that would for the first time, raise the annual budget for the NEH above that for the NEA.
In accordance with the Endowment’s three-year reauthorization legislation passed in 1990, the 1993 budget request includes a 5 percent increase in funds allocated to state arts agencies for bloc grants and underserved communities, bringing the total funds distributed to state arts agencies to 35 percent of all NEA program funds, up from the 20 percent earmarked for the states in 1990. The proposed budget also reflects support for the NEA’s funding priorities: arts education; expanding opportunities for international programs; increasing access to the arts through support for presenting organizations; and stabilizing arts institutions by way of major Challenge grants.
The net result of these changes on a flat budget would be an additional loss of $800,000 to the NEA Theater Program (from $9.6 million in 1992 to $8.8 million in 1993) and a loss of $500,000 to the Opera-Musical Theater Program (from $6.1 million in 1992 to $5.6 million in 1993).
Other issues of importance to nonprofit organizations contained in the President’s budget request include a recommendation to gain full deductibility for gifts of appreciated property. The budget also includes a proposed $360 million cut in the amount recommended for nonprofit postal rates, leaving only $122 million for the third-class subsidy. The cut includes disallowance of third-class nonprofit mail containing advocacy material, education’ material for organizations that are not schools, and for advertising.
CENSORSHIP IN BRIEF
More thunder on the right: the National Endowment for the Arts has come under fire yet again from the Rev. Donald Wildmon, seemingly tireless head of the American Family Association, for a $5,000 Literature Program grant made in 1990 to editor Kurt Hollander to support the publication of a literary magazine entitled Portable Lower East Side. According to a recent NEA press release, Hollander requested and received funding to support two issues of the magazine: one to be non-thematic and the other to feature gay and lesbian writers. Wildmon has been circulating excerpts from two issues of the journal (one which was not supported by the NEA grant) to members of Congress, informing them that “because you voted for the |Corn for Porn’ deal which meant tax dollars kept flowing to fund these kinds of projects, I thought you would be interested in this material.” Former NEA chairman John Frohnmayer has defended the NEA grant on the grounds of quality and charged Wildmon with taking the excerpts out of context to sensationalize them.
The Delaplaine Visual Arts Center in Frederick, Md. displayed a mural in January by Josef Schutzenhofer which depicted President Bush and Dolly Parton nude, Sen. Jesse Helms and Gen. Norman H. Schwarzkopf in Roman armor, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein kneeling on a prayer rug. The painting was the first-prize winner in a show of 31 regional artists. Responding to public controversy over the work, the Frederick County delegation of the Maryland state legislature voted unanimously not to authorize a proposed matching grant of $500,000 for the arts center.
The federal government failed in a recent attempt to apply last year’s Rust v. Sullivan Supreme Court decision, which upheld regulations prohibiting recipients of Title X family planning funds from counseling patients about abortion, to medical research grant recipients. In Stanford University v. Sullivan, a federal district court ruled that the government’s use of the Rust decision to defend a confidentiality requirement imposed by the National Institutes of Health on recipients of its medical research grants would be in violation of the First Amendment. The federal government has appealed the decision. The American Arts Alliance and other interested organizations have signed an amicus brief in support of Stanford University because of its relevance to content restrictions on federally funded art.
On the occasion of the third anniversary of the fatwa ordering the death of Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, a delegation representing the writers’ organization PEN, the Association of American Publishers and the Fund for Free Expression met with Assistant Secretary of State Edward Dierejian in Washington, D.C. to ask that the lifting of the fatwa be a precondition of renewal of diplomatic relations with Iran. The edict, which came from the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, has forced Rushdie to remain in hiding and resurface only for the occasional book signing, interview or speech.
In Britain, the Rushdie case was discussed in Parliament, and playwright Tom Stoppard and other writers participated in a televised lecture titled “What Is to Be Done?” in which Rushdie appeared live via video.
In response to a letter from Theatre Communications Group supporting the inclusion of language stressing the contribution of the arts in President Bush’s AMERICA 2000 educational strategy, the U.S. Department of Education has asserted that the arts are already sufficiently emphasized. A return letter from the DOE points out that one of the six new national education goals that comprise the strategy “makes clear that competency is sought in a variety of challenging subjects, which must include the five core subjects but does not exclude others, such as the arts and music.” The letter also pointed out that the department has received funding to develop an assessment system to measure the progress of the AMERICA 2000 plan and the learning of school-age children in the areas of music, visual arts, theatre and dance.
The Philadelphia City Council passed a law in December t the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, a nonprofit corporation which will provide financial support for arts and cultural institutions and activities. Although there is no current funding for the plan and despite an anticipated five-year budget for the city which would severely limit new spending there are indications that some modest funds might be forthcoming for the new authority.
In a rare bit of good news for New York cultural institutions, Mayor David N. Dinkins recently released a preliminary four-year financial plan for New York City which includes drastic cuts to many city agencies, but contains no cuts in funding to the Department of Cultural Affairs. Although the budget for the city arts agency was reduced nearly 30 percent in fiscal ’92, the new plan maintains the current arts-funding level, stating, “In recognition of the importance of the city’s cultural institutions and their education programs, the beneficial impact they have on the local economy, and the effects of the reductions taken in previous years, the plan contains no further expense reductions during the four-year period.”
The New York State Council on the Arts’ new planning committee, appointed by chairman Kitty Carlisle Hart, has determined that, despite 1992 funding cuts, a basic minimum of audits and staff site visits must be provided to maintain the integrity of the council’s work. While certain funding categories will be eliminated and funds available will be reduced, the committee plans to continue the council’s recognition of the importance of general operating support to arts organizations and to ensure that projects initiated by individual artists will continue to be funded. As a means of dealing with the cutbacks, the council plans to extend multiyear grants and limit the number of separate requests an applicant organization can make in a given year.
The city of Providence, R.I. has agreed to loan Trinity Repertory Company $1.2 million in federal funding to be repaid over a 20-year period. The loan, which is believed to be the largest city-backed loan of its kind made to a nonprofit theatre, will come from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and will be guaranteed by the city and collaterized by the theatre’s building and land. In addition to the HUD loan, a consortium of local banks will make a short-term loan of $225,000 to Trinity, also to be guaranteed by the city, to meet immediate cash flow needs.