The arts lose some heroes in Congress, but gain a sense of hope
After 12 years of Republican Administrations that were, at best, indifferent to the nation’s cultural community–more often inhospitable and at times outright hostile–the dawn of the Clinton era spells relief to artists and arts professionals. When, during the early stages of the Presidential campaign, it looked as though George Bush was unbeatable, malaise gripped the arts community–four more years of eroded policy and shrinking budgets at the National Endowment for the Arts, four more years of battling government bureaucrats fueled by the religious Right, four more years of second-class status in a blighted national economy. But as the Democrats’ campaign picked up steam and a power shift in the White House actually began to seem possible, the political despair turned to hope–and then to near euphoria on Nov. 3.Order now
The new occupant of the White House is just one of many new faces in Washington. When the 103rd Congress convenes later this month, its members will include 110 new representatives to the House–the most in 44 years–and 12 new senators. The nation’s electorate turned out in the greatest force since 1972 and nearly doubled the number of women, African Americans and Hispanics who will represent them. Youth, gender and political affiliation–both houses remain solidly Democratic–promise to impart a more liberal cast to Capitol Hill politics, and the country is looking forward to a more cooperative relationship between the Administration and Congress.
Lobbying still required
Even diehard cynics believe that with a Democratic Administration and Congress, legislation will actually be crafted and moved through the legislative process with the distinct possibility of becoming law, rather than continuing the tiresome, endless dance of compromises and vetoes that afflicted the federal government since Ronald Reagan took office.
Still, the arts community will have ample need for its recently honed lobbying skills. While the President-elect went on public record during the campaign as supporting a restriction-free NEA and freedom of artistic expression (see sidebar), there are still enough foes in Congress to make the agency’s upcoming reauthorization anything but smooth. Acting NEA chairman Anne-Imelda Radice–who told members of the National Council on the Arts that she was proud to have served the Endowment and will leave in January with no regrets–landed a seemingly gratuitous parting shot in November by vetoing grants to the National Alliance of Media Arts Centers for three gay and lesbian film festivals, ensuring that her legacy at the agency will be remembered as politically motivated and anti-gay.
The prospective designation of a new Arts Endowment chairman by a more sympathetic Administration was generated an avalanche of speculation in the arts community within weeks of the election. Names mentioned for the position ranged from off-repeated ones from the past to highly original new ideas, including several people well known to the theatre community, such as director and former Yale School of Drama dean Lloyd Richards; New York State Arts Council chairman Kitty Carlisle Hart; actress Lauren Bacall and Dayton Hudson Foundation chair Cynthia Mayeda.
Other names linked with the position include former New York University president and former Indiana congressman John Brademas; Alberta Arthurs, director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s arts and humanities division; former National Gallery of Art director J. Carter Brown; Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of NYU’s Tisch School of Arts; Anne Hawley, director of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and former executive director of the Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities; New York City cultural affairs commissioner Luis Cancel; and Clinton campaign senior adviser Deborah Sale, who assisted Joan Mondale in the Carter Administration.
Counting the losses
Still, the President-elect’s slow, methodical approach to filling cabinet posts and other Administration appointments, coupled with lengthy security clearance and congressional confirmation processes, mean it is unlikely that an NEA chairman will be in place in time to take a leadership role in the upcoming reauthorization debate this spring. Recognizing this prospect, transition team members indicated shortly after the election that Clinton might revive the dormant Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities, whose chairman would be appointed by executive order, in order to represent the Administration in the potentially controversial reauthorization debates on the Hill. The Federal Council, last active during the Carter Administration with Joan Mondale at its helm, is also a means of identifying support for artists and arts projects in other agencies throughout the federal government. To complete the new personnel picture, eight seats on the 26-member National Council on the Arts will be vacated at the end of 1992, leaving a wide berth for the new Administration to begin to build a new council.
The makeup of the new Congress will drastically alter the composition of congressional committees and subcommittees that draft legislation affecting artists and nonprofit arts groups. Fully one-third of the members of the House Appropriations Committee responsible for the annual NEA budget–19 legislators–will not be returning to Congress this month. The Appropriations Subcommittee, long chaired by staunch arts advocate Sidney Yates (D-Ill.), lost two strong arts champions who might have been candidates to take over the octogenarian’s leadership role in the future: Oregon Democrat Les AuCoin, who left the House to run unsuccessfully for his state’s Senate seat, and Massachusetts Democrat Chester Atkins.
The House Ways and Mean Committee, of great importance to nonprofit organizations because of its role in tax legislation, also lost a third of its members to retirement or defeat, including long-time nonprofit champion and nine-term Democrat Tom Downey of Long Island, N.Y. Finally, the House committees overseeing the appropriation and reauthorization of the third-class nonprofit postal subsidy lost key supporters, promising a continuation of the annual threat to preferred postal rates for theatres and other nonprofit organizations.
In addition to Rep. Downey, the arts community lost two other good friends from the New York delegation to Congress: Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Congressional Arts Caucus and staunch supporter of the performing arts during his eight terms in Washington, died on the eve of the New York primary, while eight-term Republican Bill Green of Manhattan lost his reelection bid in an upset race.
In the face of such broad changes and the promise of a new cooperative spirit in Washington, the arts community has already begun the long education process with new members of Congress and the Clinton Administration. But the challenge ahead lies in communicating the message that the arts are important to Americans–and are not just another special interest group begging favors from the new Washington power structure.
Bill Clinton: On the Record
From the Democratic Platform:
We believe in public support for the arts, including the National Endowment for the Arts, that is free from political manipulation and firmly rooted in the First Amendment’s freedom of expression guarantee.
President-elect Clinton, responding to questions in October 1992 Equity News:
As a professor of constitutional law at the University of Arkansas, I emphasized to my students the centrality of the First Amendment to all our other freedoms as Americans. And while I believe that publicly funded projects should strive to reflect the values that most Americans share, I strongly support and will defend freedom of speech and artistic expression.
The National Endowment for the Arts has brought access to the arts to Americans everywhere, and thereby enriched us all. I certainly foresee no lessening of federal funding for the arts in a Clinton Administration.
Deborah M. Sale, senior advisor to the Clinton/Gore campaign:
A Clinton Administration would take the NEA out of the political arena, returning the agency to its tradition of bipartisan cooperation. We would strengthen the peer process, strengthen the Council through appointments of merit.
I believe that if we had had stronger leadership from President Bush, debate in Congress would not have reached the fever point it did. Bill Clinton would step forward and put out those fires.
We in the Democratic Party were very careful this year to include the arts in our party platform, to be clear about where we stood. Our platform reflects Governor Clinton’s view about the arts. Arkansas was one of the first states in the nation to require a unit of fine arts for high school graduation.
I think it is very important to expand the Endowment beyond the traditional, as was done in the Carter Administration. There are many organizations in minority communities all over this country that have become stronger and tougher because the times have been so hard. With a little bit more focus and encouragement from the federal government, I think those organizations could blossom.
Unfortunately, with increased funding from the NEA, the states, instead of using the additional money to expand funding for the arts, essentially just absorbed that money and cut their own arts funding. The federal money has replaced the states’ money, instead of adding on to the states’ money. One could argue all night about what is the proper formula. But money was shifted to the states without much regulation, and the result has been less funding for the arts across the board in this nation.
Excerpts from statements made at an ArtTable Forum, “Election ’92: Defining Arts Policy,” co-sponsored by the Independent Committee on Arts Policy.
Cliff Fannin Baker, producing artistic director, Arkansas Repertory Theatre:
At Arkansas Rep, we know firsthand that President-elect Clinton and Hillary are supportive of the arts. They are subscribers and contributors; they have hosted dinners in their home for potential corporate donors; they attend. More than once they’ve slipped into the balcony on a Sunday evening because they wanted to see the show that was running. There was no fanfare, no hand-shaking, just a young governor and his wife who found theatre stimulating, provocative and entertaining. I’ve no doubt there will be a new vision and vitality for the National Endowment–a vision that embraces freedom of expression and recognizes that governmental support is crucial.