The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded 1990 grants to a half dozen arts groups that played key roles in the ongoing NEA political controversy in the face of opposition from certain conservative politicians and groups, NEA sources said Monday.
At the same time, however, a national movement seemed to develop to oppose restrictions on federal funding of arts programs. Within the arts community, there were other indications Monday that what had previously been only isolated statements of outrage over restrictive language in this year's arts endowment funding bill may be coalescing into a national protest movement.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday May 2, 1990 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Column 6 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 70 words Type of Material: Correction
Not an organizer--The Times reported incorrectly on April 24 that Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions was involved in the organization of "Modern Primitives," a controversial art show that attracted the attention of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) in the National Endowment for the Arts controversy. While at least three of the artists whose work was featured in "Modern Primitives" have performed or shown work at LACE or have strong ties to the organization, LACE itself was not an organizer of the show.
Meanwhile, underscoring concern over the indictment of a Cincinnati art museum and its director for opening a show of work by the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, the nation's largest organization of art museum directors said Monday it would provide expert testimony and friend-of-the-court briefs if the museum is tried.
The Assn. of Art Museum Directors also said its members would chip in to pay any fine levied against the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center and its director, Dennis Barrie. The association, which represents 153 of the nation's largest and best known art museums, is headed by John Walsh, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu.
The board of the art museum directors group met in emergency session at the Cincinnati museum Monday morning, where Walsh declared in a statement, "We're here from all over the country because this is a national issue, not just a Cincinnati issue." The museum was charged on obscenity counts related to five images in the show.
In a feisty internal memorandum dated April 10 and sent by Walsh to the nation's museum directors, Walsh told his colleagues that Barrie had been "astonished that prosecutors would try to get an indictment, let alone try to persuade a grand jury to grant it in a case where First Amendment protections are so clear."
In Washington, it was learned that the NEA is distributing the last of more than 140 grant letters to visual arts organizations nationwide. The arts endowment said the list of grantees would not be released for at least several more days. Details of some of the most potentially controversial grants were obtained by The Times.
But a Winston-Salem, N.C., arts group whose grant had been the subject of a personal letter on its behalf to NEA chief John Frohnmayer from Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) was formally rejected. The pattern of decisions appeared to indicate that Frohnmayer had chosen to endorse grant decisions across the board. He could have ignored the recommendations. Among the grants:
* $50,000 to Artists Space, a New York City gallery whose dispute with the NEA last year over funding of an AIDS-related show called "Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing" plunged the arts endowment into a jarring political crisis last November after Frohnmayer rescinded, then restored, a $10,000 grant to support the AIDS show.
* $50,000 to the Washington Project for the Arts, a gallery that accepted the Mapplethorpe show now the subject of the Cincinnati prosecution after the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington canceled it in a failed attempt to avert political controversy with Helms, who has led the fight to abolish or restrict the NEA.
* $45,000 to Creative Time, a New York City arts organization headed by two nationally prominent arts experts identified with political protest against attempts to restrict the content of government-funded artworks that have themes focusing on gay male sexuality.
* $45,000 to Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) gallery, which played a key role in the organization of "Modern Primitives," a show that treated body piercing, including piercing of genital organs, and prompted a protest by Helms.
* $15,000 to the Center on Contemporary Art in Seattle and $7,000 to the Southern Exposure Gallery, affiliated with San Francisco's Project Artaud. Both organizations were involved in "Modern Primitives" and were named in a letter from Helms to Frohnmayer that arts groups have widely interpreted as an attempt at intimidation.
It also was learned that Frohnmayer accepted a panel recommendation to reject the Sawtooth Center for Visual Design, a Winston-Salem, N.C., organization on whose behalf Helms wrote to the NEA to intervene last December.
Frohnmayer, who appeared on the fundamentalist "700 Club" television program on Monday, did not return calls seeking his comment on the grant decisions. But Jennifer Dowley, executive director of the Headlands Arts Center in San Francisco and the chair of the review panel that made the grant recommendations, said Frohnmayer's decisions adopting the panel recommendations was clearly an action intended to underscore confidence in the politically beleaguered arts endowment's grant process.