The National Endowment Humanities is once again engulfed in political controversy, this time surrounding President Reagan’s recent nomination to its advisory Council of seven new members, some of whose credentials have subsequently been questioned by noted humanists and congressional arts leaders.
Rockefeller Foundation president Richard W. Lyman, who is himself a former member of the National Council on the Humanities and a former president of Stanford University, told The New York Times, “I find this list disturbing. The chief common thread seems to be working for the right-to-life movement. Three of them have no academic qualifications. The Council is being more politicized than ever before and without regard to scholarly qualifications.”
Of the seven White House nominees for the six-year terms on the 26-member Council, Lyman took issue with: Mary Jo Cresimore of Raleigh, N.C., a homemaker, civic leader and “volunteer arts administrator”, Kathleen S. Kilpatrick of New Haven. Conn.. a former publisher of Yale Literary Magazine; and Helen Marie Taylor of Orange, Va., a former actor, drama coach and graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Taylor had previously come under fire when President Reagan nominated her to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and later withdrew the nomination when it engendered stiff opposition.
The NEH has been surrounded by controversy throughout the Reagan term of office, beginning when Melvin Bradford, a conservative Texas historian who criticized Abraham Lincoln, was rumored to be the Administration’s first choice for the chairmanship. The ultimate choice was William Bennett, whose brash style and outspoken comments have attracted media attention from the beginning. The announcement that he would appear on a “pro-family” panel in San Francisco with the Reverend Jerry Falwell just prior to the Democratic National Convention, and an April article in The Nation entitled “The Culture Wars—Hard Right Rudder at the NEH” are two of the most recent examples.
The Nation article, written by John S. Friedman and Eric Nader, charged that Bennett is the “point man” in a Reagan Administration “war of ideas,” and cited ultra-conservative leanings in grant-making and a corresponding decline in support of projects dealing with “liberal” issues such as women and labor.
Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI), one of the authors of the legislation creating the two endowments, said of the new Reagan Humanities Council nominees, “I am a bit disappointed with the quality of some of them.” Senator Edward F. Kennedy (D-MA), who serves on the Labor and Human Resources Committee which must approve the nominations, vowed to conduct a thorough review of the nominees’ qualifications, stressing that “the Council’s grant-making responsibilities demand real academic accomplishment and extensive background in the humanities.”
At press time, it was still unclear whether Kennedy and his fellow committee members would go so far as to demand hearings on the qualifications of the nominees, a prospect which, in this election year, the President would not be likely to welcome.
The other four Reagan nominees to the Humanities Council are William Barclay Allen, a teacher of government at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif.; Leon Richard Kass, a professor of liberal arts of human biology at the University of Chicago; Robert Laxalt, a professor of journalism at the University of Nevada in Reno; and the Reverend James Vincent Schall, a teacher of government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies have begun a series of regional meetings to identify and disseminate techniques, strategies and resources for promoting arts education from kindergarten through 12th grade. The first such meeting was held in Louisville, Ky., in July. Others are scheduled for Fargo, N.D. (Sept. 13-14), Los Angeles (Sept. 25-26), Salt Lake City, Utah (Oct. 4-5), and Boston (Oct 11-12). The NEA intends to publish the findings of the meetings as a practical guide for encouraging and increasing quality arts programs in the nation’s schools. For further information on the meetings, contact Carol Ford at the NEA Arts in Education Program, (202) 682-5426.
A Step at a Time: NEA ’85 funding looks promising
In its June recommendation to increase funding for the National Endowment for the Arts for fiscal 1985, the House Appropriations Committee noted that it was “pleased with the reversal by the Administration of the hostile attitude it originally displayed toward the NEA”—but the committee went on to tag the Administration’s $143.8 million request “grossly inadequate.” Acting on that belief, the committee made its own recommendation of $175 million for the federal arts agency in the coming year.
While the prospect of a completed federal budget by the Oct. 1 deadline seems unlikely, the early steps in the federal appropriations process point toward a respectable increase in ’85 NEA funding. The ’84 appropriation was $162 million.
Based on the NEA’s five-year planning document, which was presented to the House in February, the committee report devotes considerable attention to the “artistic deficits” which plague arts institutions throughout the country [see AT, April ’84] and includes the committee’s concern that the Endowment is “decreasing support to individual artists and performers.” To offset this trend, the committee directs the Endowment to apply $5 million of the increase recommended to individuals—including through the state programs.
Under the House Committee’s recommendations, funding available to the NEA Theatre Program would increase from $10.6 million in 1984 to $11.4 million in 1985.
Before the committee’s recommendations are enacted, several steps remain in the appropriations process. The recommendations must first be approved by the full House, and although an amendment to cut all spending in the Interior Appropriations Bill by six percent failed in committee, indications are that such action will again be proposed when the bill reaches the floor.
On Aug. 1, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $162 million for the NEA in fiscal 1985, or the same amount appropriated for the current year. Once the respective versions of the Interior Appropriations Bill are passed on the floor of each chamber, representatives from each house will meet in conference to iron out the differences. The conference version of the bill must then be approved by both houses prior to the President’s signature.
Other congressional action which will affect the operation of nonprofit arts institutions in the coming year includes House action on the Treasury, Postal Service and General Government Bill, which included $801 million for the Postal Revenue Forgone Subsidy. This figure, approved by the full House in June, is sufficient to maintain nonprofit third-class rates at the current 5.2 cents per piece through Oct. 1, 1985. The Reagan Administration had recommended cutting the subsidy to $452 million, which would have caused the nonprofit rate to jump to 7.8 cents per piece—a 50 percent increase. While the Senate Appropriations Committee has also included $801 million for the postal subsidy in its version of the bill, at press time the full Senate had yet to approve the committee’s recommendation. Although the bill extends the 5.2 cents per piece rate through the next fiscal year, the Postal Rate Commission is expected to push for increases in all postal rates early in 1985, which could raise the nonprofit rate despite the congressional action.
In other legislative action, the 1985 Tax Bill, approved by both Houses in June, included three measures of importance to arts organizations:
The bill places stringent curbs on the use of sale/leaseback arrange ments between commercial landlords and nonprofit organizations. Under a provision of the Economic Recovery Act of 1981, commercial investors could claim substantial tax savings when renting to nonprofit organizations. The new bill limits such arrangements.
The new Tax Bill also includes provisions which change the tax treatment of gifts of appreciated property to charitable institutions. Seen as a significant improvement over earlier recommendations made by the Senate and Treasury Department, harsh penalties for the over-evaluation of donations—which would have threatened not only the donor’s appreciation, but in certain instances, his initial investment—were dropped. Also excluded was a provision which would have mandated a three-year holding period before such donations could be made. Donors and charitable institutions will be subiect to new appraisal and reporting procedures beginning in 1985.
The other measure of interest provides stronger incentives for making donations to private foundations. Previously, a donor could claim only a portion of the actual value of publicly traded stock when giving it to a foundation. Donors may now claim the full market value. The bill also raises the limit on tax-deductible gifts from 20 to 30 percent of a donor’s income. Gifts above the limit may now be spread over five years for tax purposes.
The New York State Council on the Arts has announced its allocation plan and primary list of eligible arts organizations for fiscal 1985. For the coming year, NYSCA received an all-time high appropriation of $35.3 million from Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
Program allocation of the Council’s 1985 budget includes $6.4 million to aid museums, $5.8 million for music, $3 million for dance and $3.6 million for theatre. A total of $1.1 million is allocated for individual artist fellowships. The remaining $20.5 million is divided among the Council’s 11 other programs.
The Council’s local assistance funds support organizations throughout New York State, and by legislative mandate, the Council is directed to spend 55 cents per person in each of the state’s 62 counties. The “per capita” requirement is designed to assure that all taxpayers in the state benefit from the Council’s activities. There are 158 organizations, including 18 theatres, on this year’s “primary” list of eligible grantees.
A new national medal for the arts has been created by the U.S. Congress to recognize individuals or groups in the private sector for their contributions to the arts in America. The medal, which was first suggested by the Presidential Task Force on the Arts and Humanities, was signed into law in May as a part of legislation which raised the federal authorization levels for both National Endowments and the Institute of Museum Services for fiscal ’84 and ’85.
The medal will be presented for the first time next spring, on the basis of recommendations made by the National Council on the Arts. The NEA is expected to launch a national design competition for the creation of the medal. (The Kennedy Center Honors will continue as a separate program to recognize distinguished performing artists.)
The May legislation also formally transferred the Institute of Museum Services from the U.S. Department of Education to the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities. According to Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI), original sponsor of the 1965 legislation which created both National Endowments, the move allows the IMS to occupy “an appropriate position as the third jewel in the crown of federal arts support programs.”
U.S. and UNESCO: A Shift in the Wind?
The U.S. decision to withdraw from UNESCO has produced a “serious effort toward reform” and, if changes in the international agency are to the Reagan Administration’s satisfaction, “we will applaud, we will return.” So stated assistant secretary of state Gregory Newell recently in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where he had stopped as part of a five-nation African tour.
The United States previously announced that it would pull out of UNESCO in December in protest of what the Administration views as a militant Third World agenda largely inspired by the Soviet Union (see AT, April ’84). The U.S. currently provides 25 percent of the financing of UNESCO, which Newell called “political tribute money,” compared to only 10 percent from the U.S.S.R.
Newell noted that “everyone tried to convince the U.S. to stay” or to delay its timetable for departure, during the months following the State Department announcement. He pointed to “a rather remarkable evolution in the Paris UNESCO headquarters since then.”
The executive committee of the International Theatre Institute, one of UNESCO’s affiliated nongovernmental organizations, passed a resolution at its June meeting in Nancy, France, stressing that the pursuance of UNESCO’s “quest for peace, for international understanding and the respect of human rights…requires the engagement of all peoples.” In her letter transmitting the resolution to secretary of state George Shultz, IT/U.S. director Martha W. Coigney stated, “This resolution is sent in the belief that our presence in the international arena must not be compromised, and in the hope that this evidence of international common cause with the United States will help persuade us to remain an active and concerned member of UNESCO.”
As the deadline approaches, speculation continues as to whether the U.S. will reconsider or carry out its threat. For the moment, however, the Administration appears to be taking a more moderate view of the UNESCO question.
NEA Announces Grants
The National Endowment for the Arts Theatre Program has announced recipients of its 1984 Director Fellows and Artistic Associates grants. Recipients of the $12,500 Director Fellow Grants include Center Theatre Group of Los Angeles for Jody McAuliffe; Court Theatre/University of Chicago for Susan Dafoe; Eureka Theatre Company of San Francisco for Susan Marsden; the Julian Theatre of San Francisco for Salaedo Maredi; L.A. Theatre Works for John Stepping: New Dramatists of New York for Alma Becker; Portland (Me.) Stage Company for Wendy Chapin; and Seattle Repertory Theatre for Kevin Tighe.
Recipients of Artistic Associate grants, which range from $3,900 to $9,700, are Alabama Shakespeare Festival for director Allen R. Belknap; American Repertory Theatre of Cambridge for designer Jennifer Tipton; and Arizona Theatre Company for Ken Ruta as associate artistic director.
Also, the Mark Taper Forum of Los Angeles for director Jose Quintero; INTAR of New York for literary manager Dolores Prida; the Julian Theatre for director/educator John Doyle; New York’s Mabou Mines for sound designer Tom Lopez; San Francisco’s Magic Theatre for director Albert Takazauckas: New Dramatists of New York to engage director Robert Woodruff as dramaturg/teacher; and New York’s Ragabash Puppet Theatre for sculptor Jay Coogan.
Other awards went to New York’s Theater for the New City for designer Anthony Johnoipolous; Woodstock Guild of Craftsmen, N.Y., for playwright Len Jenkin; and New York’s The Wooster Group for director Richard Foreman.
For artists in interdisciplinary art forms, the NEA InterArts Program has announced 92 grants totalling $1.2 million. A commissioning and touring initiative began this year to foster national touring networks for experimental theatre and to encourage large-scale interdisciplinary work by American artists. The Brooklyn Academy of Music received $230,000 to support eight productions of the 1984 Next Wave Festival, at least three of which will tour.
Other Inter-Arts grants include $12,500 to the Impossible Theater in Baltimore to support the creation and development of Social Amnesia, a new work drawing on utopian literature exploring the phenomenon of mass perception of historical events; two grants of $15,000 each to Mabou Mines for Flow My Tears, Said the Policeman and Imagine Dead Imagine; $7,500 to support a new work by composer Glenn Branca at the New York Shakespeare Festival: and $25,000 for The Wooster Group to develop a full-length work combining live action, film and multi-channel sound tracks.
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