- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

The National Endowment for the Arts will announce $25 million worth of grants today for 860 projects around the country.

The grants, which constitute 27 percent of the NEA's yearly grant-making funds, herald better times for an agency that has been slowly rebuilding its budget since the late 1990s.

Congress narrowly avoided shutting down the agency in 1997. The NEA's annual budget was reduced to $99 million because of criticism over numerous grants for projects seen by some as offensive, pornographic or sacrilegious.

However, because of painstaking diplomacy by former NEA Chairman Bill Ivey, who joined the agency in 1998, the NEA's estimated 2003 budget is at $117 million. After the next chairman, Michael Hammond, died just before assuming the job in January, the White House waited 10 months before naming his replacement, California poet Dana Gioia, who is expected to be confirmed early next year.

Disputes over past NEA grants appear to be completely over, said Suzy Brenner, director of the District-based Society for the Arts in Healthcare, which received a $10,000 grant today for a conference in San Diego this spring on healing and the arts.

"Most people in the arts community thought the Mapplethorpe issue as overblown," she said, referring to NEA support of homoerotic photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the late 1980s. "The NEA is expanding its funding, and with Republicans running everything, that's amazing."

Nonetheless, some grants announced today have been awarded to groups that have been questioned before. The Kitchen, an avant-garde New York theater also known as Haleakala Inc., received a $25,000 grant for a summer institute on how to design and develop multimedia art projects. The theater has sponsored sexually explicit performances by porn actress Annie Sprinkle.

The Manhattan Theatre Club, which was sharply criticized for a 1998 play, "Corpus Christi," about a homosexual Messiah, received $42,000 to support new plays and musicals.

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which was condemned by members of Congress in the mid-1990s for a work featuring blood from an AIDS-infected artist, got a $65,000 grant to fund artistic dialogues on "culture, politics, history, race and global equity." Women Make Movies Inc., a New York film-distribution company specializing in feminist and lesbian films, got $30,000 to record 10 of its films on DVDs.

Some unusual grants include $25,000 to Seven Loaves Inc. of New York for its production of "The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald," written and directed by Vit Horejs. Famous Door, a Chicago theater, got $10,000 for its production of "The Cider House Rules."

Other local grants include $25,000 to the Arena Stage for production costs for "An American Daughter" by Wendy Wasserstein, directed by Molly Smith. The Choral Arts Society of Washington also received $25,000 to fund its annual choral tribute to Martin Luther King. The Dance Place in the District also got $25,000 to support performances and residencies by dancers.

The Shakespeare Theater received $55,000 for the production of "The Silent Woman" by Ben Jonson, directed by Michael Khan. The Washington Ballet received $20,000 to support a new ballet by Trey McIntyre, which will premiere at the Kennedy Center.

The Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co. got $33,000 for a production of "The Day Room" by novelist and playwright Don DeLillo.

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