Two Republican congressmen have slightly altered a controversial proposal to restructure the National Endowment for the Arts, while House leaders said Monday a floor vote could come as soon as late next week on a bill to extend the NEA's life.
The revisions in the NEA restructuring proposal were announced by Rep. Tom Coleman (R-Mo.), co-author of the plan with Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.). In the new version, Coleman and Gunderson propose to reserve 40% of the NEA's budget for block grants to state arts councils. Another 40% would remain under the control of NEA grant-making programs and 20% would be reserved for direct grants to support rural or inner-city arts programs.
Allocation of 40% to the states represents an amount double what state agencies get now, but less than the 60% the two GOP congressmen proposed in May when they originally announced their legislation. Allocating even 40% of the NEA's total budget--$171.5 million this year--would involve fundamental change in the nature of public art funding in the United States.
Meanwhile on Monday, a spokesman for Rep. Pat Williams (D-Mont.), chairman of the House NEA reauthorization subcommittee, said the bill to renew the endowment for another five years--which is certain to face amendment attempts by Coleman, Gunderson and several other congressmen--may come up for floor action at the end of next week. Most congressional sources believe the NEA legislative process will reach its climax--at least over the issue of reauthorization--by the end of July.
Alteration to the Coleman-Gunderson plan came as Coleman tried to make the measure more palatable to state arts councils, many of which opposed the plan as a gutting of the NEA--even though the plan would triple money directed to the state agencies themselves. The state arts councils of Missouri and Wisconsin--the sponsors' home states--were among those that joined in the opposition.
"Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding past administration of the NEA has . . . placed the endowment itself in jeopardy," Coleman said.
Coleman's proposal, delivered by state arts officials in Missouri last week, also would involve state arts organizations in rural and inner-city initiative programs. The new version of the proposal, however, continued to omit any specific proposal for what could become the legislation's most controversial component--language to restrict the content of NEA-supported art to bar funding of obscene or offensive work.
On Monday, a Coleman spokesman said there was still no specific wording in the proposal to regulate content. The spokesman said Coleman believes the controversial rejection of four performance art fellowships by NEA Chairman John E. Frohnmayer 10 days ago may quell part of the protest in Congress and make it possible to include wording far less specific than proposals by conservative congressmen who would outlaw federal support of a variety of work, including art judged "indecent" or "offensive."