In a lightning strike on the federal arts budget, the House voted last week to cut a symbolic $45,000 from a $171.4 million appropriation for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The cut, although not massive in terms of dollars, sends a big signal to the NEA that the funding of controversial art will not be tolerated. Serious First Amendment questions are also raised. (See story, Page 10.)
The retaliatory $45,000 cut is exactly the sum of two NEA grants given to arts organizations that backed controversial NEA-funded photo exhibitions by Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe. The exhibitions, branded by some as blasphemous and pornographic, aroused fierce debate in Congress.
The Seranno controversy focused on his irreverent photographic treatment of a Christian symbol, the Maplethorpe debate on several photographs of an explicitly homosexual and sadomasochistic nature.
The $45,000 cut is not final, since the Senate has yet to consider the NEA funding.