Bay Area Coalition Rejects NEA Grant : Arts: Funding group joins protest over content restrictions, the first salvo from a corporate- dominated recipient.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A San Francisco private-sector arts coalition said Wednesday it would reject a $75,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant--striking a new direction in the national protest over NEA requirements that grant recipients certify they will not produce obscene work.

The rejection was announced by Northern California Grantmakers, an umbrella organization of 89 Bay Area corporations and foundations. The group said the NEA grant in question was intended to underwrite a unique program in which it makes loans to small Bay Area arts organizations that experience cash-flow problems or other financial misfortunes. The program, formally called the Arts Loan Fund, has made more than 600 loans totaling $4 million over the last eight years, the group said.

The turn-down, it is believed, marks the first time a grantee has rejected funds under the NEA's challenge grant program, which provides large-scale capital support for arts organizations that are required to raise at least three times the award in the private sector.

The decision is also apparently the first example of a corporate-dominated arts support group turning down arts endowment funds outright to protest the NEA's requirement that grantees sign what critics contend is an anti-obscenity loyalty oath.

Northern California Grantmakers said it decided on the action after the NEA took the position that the $225,000 in required matching funds--in addition to the grant itself--might be construed as coming under the jurisdiction of the anti-obscenity restrictions. The group said contributors who had already committed $160,000 to the matching campaign had agreed to make the donations, regardless.

The grantmakers organization had served as the fiscal agent of an unprecedented emergency grant from the NEA to help artists and arts organizations recover from the effects of the October, 1989, Bay Area earthquake.

"We agonized over the decision not to accept this grant," the organization said a prepared statement. "We accept all terms of the challenge (grant) except for the content restriction statement and our arts community desperately needs the kind of support the grant would have represented."

Two other organizations said they were also rejecting NEA grants. A Fresno-based nonprofit radio network said it would reject a $15,000 grant from the endowment, and the Washington Project for the Arts said it was striking some of the language in the NEA's anti-obscenity clause in accepting $20,000 of a $50,000 award.

The grant was to support feature reports on national Latino arts and culture. "Noticiero Latino" reaches 35 markets in the U.S. and in Mexico. "Radio Bilingue" officials said they hope to offset the grant rejection with private contributions.

WPA attorney James Fitzpatrick said the language violates First Amendment rights. WPA took controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's exhibit "The Perfect Moment" last year after the Corcoran Gallery of Art refused it.

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