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O.C. Philharmonic Society Votes to Accept NEA Grant

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County Philharmonic Society trustees have accepted a $3,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the first NEA grant in the society’s 36-year history.

Six of the 20 trustees present voted to reject the award (12 others on the 32-member board were absent). Some artists and arts groups around the country have been rejecting or threatening to reject NEA grants, objecting to congressionally imposed restrictions on the content of federally funded artworks. NEA grant recipients must sign a form, mandated by Congress, pledging that they will not use the grant to produce obscene artworks that do not meet undefined standards of excellence.

Erich A. Vollmer, executive director of the Philharmonic Society, which presents classical programs by touring groups and soloists, refused to name the six dissenting trustees. “If I name the ones that voted to decline, I should name the ones who voted for (the grant), and that would be too many names for a newspaper article,” Vollmer said.

The society, which had never applied to the NEA before, was notified of the grant late last week but postponed a decision on whether to accept it until the trustees meeting, held in Costa Mesa Saturday. The trustees who voted for acceptance “essentially felt that the (content control) issue is bigger than we are” and that a refusal to accept $3,500 would not make any difference in the grand scheme of things, said Vollmer, who did not vote.

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Vollmer added that some trustees feel there are “better ways” to lend support to the NEA than rejecting grants. Ways to “rally support” for the agency, which some conservative politicians want to abolish entirely, will be discussed during a special board of trustees executive committee meeting June 4, Vollmer said.

Furthermore, he said, some trustees feel that “the language (in the anti-obscenity pledge) doesn’t really apply to what we do, unless one of our soloists walked out in the nude.”

Still, those who did vote against acceptance objected to the congressional attempts to restrict content of artwork, Vollmer said.

He said the $3,500 will be spent on the society’s 1990-91 “Festival Series” of young American artists, planned for the new Irvine Theatre, scheduled to open this fall.

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