3.335 US politics and support of the humanities (203)

Mon, 7 Aug 89 22:39:16 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 335. Monday, 7 Aug 1989.

Date: Mon, 7 Aug 89 14:08:00 EDT(2) (189 lines)
From: MLAOD@CUVMB.bitnet
Subject: Politics

Humanist members:

Attached is a letter which is being sent to all MLA members regarding
recent events in Washington and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Briefly, it involves political pressure which would disable or replace
the process of peer review in granting federal funds in the arts and
humanities, substituting instead various moral and political tests which
are, to me, profoundly frightening.

I hope that you will read this letter and, if similarly moved, take the
time to respond accordingly.

Daniel Uchitelle
Modern Language Association

9 August 1989

Dear MLA Member:

We are writing to you about a current debate in the United States Con-
gress that is of vital concern to those of us who work in the humanities.
Although the debate focuses on two controversial exhibits of photographs
by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano supported by the National
Endowment for the Arts (NEA), it raises large questions about the role of
government in subsidizing art. Immediately after Labor Day a conference
committee made up of legislators from the House of Representatives and
the Senate will meet to resolve some of these questions. The committee's
decisions will affect the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as
well as the NEA and will have far-reaching implications.

On 26 July, Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) introduced an amendment to the
Fiscal Year 1990 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations bill that
the Senate approved by a voice vote. The purpose of this amendment is

To prohibit the use of appropriated funds for the
dissemination, promotion, or production of obscene
or indecent materials or materials denigrating a
particular religion.

The amendment specifies:

None of the funds authorized to be appropriated
pursuant to this Act may be used to promote, dis-
seminate, or produce--

(1) obscene or indecent materials, including but
not limited to depictions of sadomasochism, homo-
eroticism, the exploitation of children, or indi-
viduals engaged in sex acts; or
(2) material which denigrates the objects or
beliefs of the adherents of a particular religion
or non-religion; or
(3) material which denigrates, debases, or reviles
a person, group, or class of citizens on the basis
of race, creed, sex, handicap, age, or national

According to knowledgeable observers, although Senator Helms aimed the
amendment at the NEA, by its placement in the bill, its provisions will
apply to all agencies funded under the bill, including the NEH, the
National Gallery of Art, the Institute for Museum Services, the Smith-
sonian Institution, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for

Early in September, the conference committee will negotiate the final
version of the appropriations bill. If the amendment remains in the bill
and becomes law, it will mark an important shift in the government's
regulation of federally supported artistic and intellectual endeavor.

The change may be seen by comparing the Helms amendment with the report
language the Senate Labor and Public Welfare Committee adopted to
accompany the authorizing statute that established the NEA and the NEH in

It is the intent of the committee that in the
administration of this act there be given the ful-
lest attention to freedom of artistic and
humanistic expression. One of the artist's and the
humanist's great values to society is the mirror of
self-examination which they raise so that society
can become aware of its shortcomings as well as its
Moreover, modes of expression are not static,
but are constantly evolving. Countless times in
history artists and humanists who were vilified by
their contemporaries because of their innovations
in style or mode of expression have become prophets
to a later age.
Therefore, the committee affirms that the intent
of this act should be the encouragement of free
inquiry and expression. The committee wishes to
make clear that conformity
for its own sake is not to be encouraged, and that
no undue preference should be given to any particu-
lar style or school of thought or expression. Nor
is innovation for its own sake to be favored. The
standard should be artistic and humanistic

To carry out the work of the NEA and the NEH, Congress endorsed a system
of peer review. Panels of specialists were to consider applications
requesting support for various projects and to identify proposals they
judged worthy of funding. Final decisions were to be made by the heads
of the endowments with the advice of the endowments' governing councils.
The Helms amendment would significantly reduce the role of peer review
and even the role of presidentially appointed leaders of the endowments.

How the NEA and the NEH will interpret and apply the language in the
amendment, should it become law, cannot be predicted, but you may wish to
consider its possible effects on the arts and the humanities. As a
scholar and teacher of language and literature, you are in a position to
speak with authority to the issues the Helms amendment raises, and you
may wish to express your views about the amendment to the members of the
conference committee. (A list of committee members' names and addresses
appears below.)

If you do write, your letter should reach committee members before Labor
Day. We would appreciate receiving a copy of your letter as well and ask
that you direct it to us at the MLA office. If you have questions,
please call Phyllis Franklin at (212) 614-6301.
Sincerely yours,

Victor Brombert
Modern Language Association

Catharine R. Stimpson
First Vice President
Modern Language Association

If you live in a state represented on the committees, you should write
directly to your state's senator or representative(s). If you do not
live in a state represented on the committees, please direct your letters
to Senators Byrd and McClure and to Representatives Yates and Regula.

Interior and Related Agencies Subcom- |Interior and Related Agencies Subcommit-
mittee of the Senate Committee on |tee of the House Committee on Appropri-
Appropriations ( listed in order |ations (members listed in order of
of seniority on the subcommittee) |seniority on the subcommittee)
| |
Name ZIP+4 | Name ZIP+4
Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) 20510-4801|Sidney R. Yates (D-IL) 20515-1309
(chair) | (chair)
J. Bennett Johnston (D-LA) 20510-1802|John P. Murtha (D-PA) 20515-3812
Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) 20510-4502|Norman D. Dicks (D-WA) 20515-4706
Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) 20510-0302|Les AuCoin (D-OR) 20515-3701
Quentin N. Burdick (D-ND) 20510-3401|Tom Bevill (D-AL) 20515-0104
Dale Bumpers (D-AR) 20510-0401|Chester G. Atkins (D-MA) 20515-2105
Ernest F. Hollings (D-SC) 20510-4002|
Harry Reid (D-NV) 20510-2803|
|Ralph Regula (R-OH) 20515-3516
MINORITY MEMBERS | (ranking minority member)
James A. McClure (R-ID) 20510-1201|Joseph M. McDade (R-PA) 20515-3810
(ranking minority member) |Bill Lowery (R-CA) 20515-0541
Ted Stevens (R-AK) 20510-0201|
Jake Garn (R-UT) 20510-4401|
Thad Cochran (R-MS) 20510-2402|For appropriations conferences, the
Warren B. Rudman (R-NH) 20510-2902|chair and ranking minority member of
Don Nickles (R-OK) 20510-3602|the full House Appropriations Committee
Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) 20510-3101|are traditionally active participants.
|The chair and ranking minority member
|of the House Appropriations Committee
For appropriations conferences, the |are, respectively:
chair and ranking minority member of | Jamie L. Whitten (D-MS) 20515-2401
the full Senate Appropriations Commit-| Silvio O. Conte (R-MA) 20515-2101
tee are traditionally active partici- |
pants. The chair and ranking minority|
member of the Senate Appropriations | Letters to representatives should be
Committee are, respectively: | addressed as follows:
Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) 20510-4801| Honorable ____________________
Mark O. Hatfield (R-OR) 20510-3701| U. S. House of Representatives
| Washington, DC 20515-____
| (fill in name and extension of zipcode)
Letters to senators should be addressed|
as follows: |
Honorable ____________________ |
United States Senate |
Washington, DC 20510-____ |
(fill in name and extension of zipcode)|