WASHINGTON — Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Lomita) has distributed to his colleagues the first in a series of weekly letters attacking what he characterizes as financial support of pornography by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The "Dear Colleague" letter circulated this week by Rohrabacher attacks the NEA for allowing taxpayer dollars to be used to subsidize sexually explicit performances at a New York art center by veteran porn actress Annie Sprinkle.
"It's ludicrous to be funding art that is obscene or indecent," said Rohrabacher's press secretary, David Eisner. "Annie Sprinkle is a performer and has done 150 triple-X, hard-core videos."
According to the letter, $25,000 in NEA funds was provided through the New York Council for the Arts to the Kitchen Theatre in Manhattan to support a series of performances. Sprinkle's 12 performances in January were a major part of the series, the Orange County lawmaker said.
Both the NEA and the New York Council for the Arts have denied that NEA funds went directly to Sprinkle. Eisner, however, said those denials are deceptive.
"They're saying that retrospectively, that the money was not given to Sprinkle specifically," Eisner said, " . . . (But) there is no proof in the written language of grants that Sprinkle would not get any direct funding."
Rohrabacher's letter says that during one performance, Sprinkle stated: "Usually I get paid a lot of money for this, but tonight it's government-funded."
Eisner said that $60,000 in NEA funding given to the Kitchen Theatre last year by the New York Council for the Arts for salaries, repairs and other expenses at the private performing arts center indirectly helped to support Sprinkle's shows.
The New York Council for the Arts receives $500,000 in support every year from NEA, Rohrabacher said in his letter.
According to Rohrabacher's letter, Sprinkle's "Post Porn Modernist" show included scenes in which the actress performed masturbation and invited the audience to feel her breasts and inspect parts of her body.
NEA Chairman John Frohnmayer said in a statement that the $60,000 Kitchen Theatre support grant did not provide any specific funding for Sprinkle's performances and, therefore, was not used to support pornography.
"Their application did not request support for any activity involving Annie Sprinkle, nor was the endowment asked to examine, review or approve an application for this performance," he said. "Furthermore, the New York State Council on the Arts has stated that neither endowment state block grant funds nor its own funds went to support this presentation."
Frohnmayer noted that if press accounts of Sprinkle's performance were accurate, the act "is something that would not have been funded by the endowment."
Eisner said the NEA should be more responsible for the actions of its funding recipients because NEA is a federal agency.
He said that each week, Rohrabacher intends to highlight other examples of NEA support for artwork that he considers obscene.
Rohrabacher, one of the most outspoken congressional critics of the NEA, last year led an unsuccessful fight in the House to eliminate all federal funding for the agency.
He later pushed for adoption in the House of the so-called Helms amendment, named after conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who had sought to ban federal funding of "indecent" or "obscene" artwork. Congress eventually adopted a watered-down version of the measure.
Times staff writer Robert W. Stewart contributed to this report.