- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

A Republican study committee has condemned an amendment to the House interior appropriations bill that would restore funding for the National Endowment for the Arts close to its level before the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress.
"Unfortunately, the NEA has a record of supporting art that actually degrades America and promotes ideas that are offensive to most Americans," said Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican and one of the 70 committee members. "The best solution is for the government to get out of the business of funding art entirely."
The House Appropriations Committee has proposed increasing NEA funding by $1.3 million to $116.5 million for the next fiscal year. The full House was scheduled to vote late last night on the appropriations bill and an additional $10 million proposed in an amendment sponsored by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat.
"The arts play a vital economic, educational and cultural role in our nation's well-being," said Mrs. Slaughter, who spearheaded an identical amendment that passed the House in a 221-193 roll call vote on June 21, 2001, and was approved by the Senate.
The NEA, which funds arts projects with taxpayer dollars, has been in frequent danger of elimination since the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. One project that raised Republican hackles was "Broadway Bares XII," an AIDS fund-raiser featuring nude performers that played June 16 before two packed houses in New York City.
"Conceived and directed by Jerry Mitchell, the dance production celebrated the themes and characters of comic books, as costumes ranging from capes and spandex to thongs and pasties were stripped off some of the best bodies in show business," said promotional materials for the play, funded by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
"We gave $10,000 to Broadway Cares to support dance activities, but I'm not familiar with that particular event of theirs," NEA spokesman Mark Weinberg said yesterday.
Some conservative grass-roots organizations say the play is indicative of how the NEA's mission of supporting the arts has become "warped and frivolous."
"The original idea of the NEA was to fund art that everyone could enjoy, such as the symphony or art museum," Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly said yesterday. "I don't think political opposition to the NEA has softened any, but Republicans in Congress have grown weary of fighting the same battles. The NEA ought to be abolished."
The Slaughter amendment also would include $5 million in additional funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities, which received a $3 million boost last year.
John Agresto, a former president of St. John's College in Santa Fe, N.M., who served as NEH acting chairman in 1985 and 1986 and as a member of the first President Bush's Independent Commission on the Arts, says the funding increases for both agencies are unnecessary.
"We always found that less money made us make harder and better choices," he said in an interview yesterday. "That held our feet to the fire and made sure we only funded the most worthy programs."

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