The chairman of the House subcommittee dealing with the $178-million funding of the embattled National Endowment for the Arts said Wednesday he believes “overwhelming” support will ensure continuation of the program despite a new volley of attacks from congressional colleagues including Orange County Republican Dana Rohrabacher.
Meanwhile, representatives of artists’ groups announced the formation of the “National Campaign for Freedom of Expression” decrying controls on the government arts program. At a breakfast news conference, they said they will work to defeat Rohrabacher and Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), leader of Senate efforts to block funds for allegedly obscene or blasphemous works of art.
“Mr. Rohrabacher next year will be going back to his surfboard,” predicted Jeffrey Chester, Los Angeles representative of the National Alliance of Media Art Centers.
Rep. Pat Williams (D-Mont.), after hearing a dozen congressional witnesses testify before his Education and Labor Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, told reporters he feared that the NEA was in jeopardy last year because of public furor over its sponsorship of assertedly pornographic and blasphemous artworks.
“But we are now finding both inside and outside Congress overwhelming support for reauthorization. The only question is whether there should be restrictions on the money.” Williams said he opposes any censorship powers for the Endowment.
The majority of witnesses called for a ban on tax dollars for projects which are obscene or attack religion. Reps. Rohrabacher and Mel Hancock (R-Mo.) demanded outright abolition of the NEA and others asked for restrictions to bar support of such exhibits as the Robert Mapplethorpe photographs which sparked public outcry last year.
But Reps. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio), Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D-Colo.), a silversmith who claims to be one of the few artists in the House, warned against congressional attempts to impose censorship.
Members of the subcommittee accused opponents of unfairly branding the endowment as supporters of pornography.
“I haven’t done that, but I can’t say that those who do are illogical,” Rohrabacher replied in an exchange with Rep. Paul B. Henry (R-Mich.), the only Republican member of the subcommittee supporting unrestricted NEA funds.