A House hearing on appropriations for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities opened yesterday morning with a star-studded testimonial to the agencies, but by afternoon it had turned into a forum for critism and requests.
Arena Stage, the Corcoran Gallery and the Folger Shakespeare Library seemed to bypass the Endowmentss altogether. They asked the Interior sub-committee of the Appropriations committee, which also overseas the National Park Service, for a total of approximately $900,000 a year from the National Park Service for maintenance for their buildings.
Folger director O.B. Hardison compared the three groups to small animals in a forest who find themselves in the path of an elephant.
The elephant, in this case, is "the massive federal cultural complex" in Washington, said Hardison, that competes with private, groups for private funds.
He cited local arts centers with facilities already supported by the Park Service-the Kennedy Center, Ford's Theatre and Wolf Trap Farm Park-and the Smithsonian Institution. In addition to their federal support, these organization actively pursue private sources of funds.
Hardison cited the Smithsonian's recent attempt to purchase Gilbert Stuart portraits from a private Boston museum as an example of the federal cultural thrust, saying that, "if the problems have reached as far as Boston, they are several magnitudes greater for the private institutions here."
Subcommittee chairman Sidney Yates "D-Ill.) indicated that new legislation might be required in order to provide the requested assistance, but said he would look into the matter.
Last fall, the current Park Service appropriations for some Washington area cultural facilities were threatened with a cutback, but sources at the hearing yesterday said the maintenance funds for Ford's and Wolf Trap are now out of danger.
The most systematic criticism of the Endowments yesterday came from former Ford Foundation vice president W. McNeil Lowry. While supporting the budget requests of #154.4 million for the Arts Endowment and #150.1 for the Humanities Endowment, he also listed a number of shortcomings.
"At present," said Lowry, "there is not merely the absence of clear priorities, but the scatteration of funds, the diversion of many artistic enterprises from their chosen objectives and functions, the attenuation rather than the discrimination of standards, and the creation-together with state and community agencies-of a delivery system that is expensive, cumbersome and parasitical."
Among Lowry's specific recommendations:
The 14 program areas and staffs of the Arts Endowment should be reduced to one for each art, eliminating such programs as "Special Projects," "Federal-State Partnership," "Expansion Arts" and "Education."
Arts educaion programs should be funded by HEW's Office of Education rather than the Endowments.
When art groups are presented on television with Endowments support, the artists-not the TV systems-should receive most of the money.
The Endowments should use fewer paid consultants and outside contractors.
The Endowments and state and local arts agencies "should declare independence one from the other."
Other witnesses had specific complaints to make about the Endowments.
Mary Ann Liebert, a publisher with Marcel Dekker, Inc. in New York, testified on an incident she said has "far-raging and potentially devastating implications" for private groups undertaking humanities research.
Liebert's complaint is that the Humanities Endowment awarded a grant to a project which would duplicate the research done for a book soon to be published by her firm.
Dekker plans to publish a long history of the seminal dance school at Bennington College in the 1930s, written by Washington dance historian Sali Ann Kriegsman. In 1978, however, Humanities Endowment awarded $44,414 to Bennington College and dance critic Nancy Goldner for a similar project.
Among the critecs asked to evaluate the Bennington proposal for the Endowment was Washington Post dance critic Alan M. Kreigsman, whois married to Sali Ann Kriegsman.
Kreigsman disqualified himself from the evaluation, but notified the Endowment of the work already done by his wife. Liebert says other critic and reprsentatives of Dekker also advised the Endowment of the duplication, but the Endowment went ahead and gave Benninton and Goldner the grant without even looking at the 850-page Kriegsman manuscript.
Liebert asked the committee to request a GAO investigation of the tituation and freeze funds for the Bennington grant (Goldner, said Liebert, has requested an extension of the grant). Committee members said they would ask Endowment officials about the issue.
Humanities Endowment also came under fire from two New York television producers. Virginia Cassell of WNET said the Endowment was not as "audacious" in funding independent producers as it once was, and deplored the "longgerheads" at which producers and Humanities-required scholars find themselves while working on productions.
Julie Motz of the Hudson River Rilm Company agreed, noting that the Endowment seemed to assume filmmakers would "distort" material without ample scholarly advice, which she said frequently debilitates the eventual film. The PBS production of "The Scarlet Letter" was cited by more than one witness as an example of this problem.
Another independent filmmaker, Barbara Kopple ("Harlan County, U.S.A.") praised the Endowments, pointing out that she has been both grant applicant and panel member.
Writer Eric Baizer attacked the literature program of the Arts Endowment, citing conflicts of interest among the panelists and staff. Baizer, Motz and Liebert deplored what they termed the "secrecy" surrounding Endowment operations, and cited difficulties in obtaining information from Endowment staff.
The parade of big names yesterday morning however, beat the endowment drum. Actor/directro John Houseman, dancer Edward Villella and opera director Sarah Caldwell testified that their arts ahd been in dire danger 20 years ago, before the Arts Endowment.
Caldwell referred to the current appropriations as "crumbs," but she had no complaints about the way "the crumbs are spread around."
Historians Barbara Tuchman and John Hope Franklin defended the Humanities Endowment. Touchman rebutted the conception of the humanities as an arcane field by pointing out that her recent book on the 14th century is "keeping pace (in sales) with its competitors on sex, dieting, running and movie stars," and she credited libraries partially supported by the Humanities Endowment for some of her research.
Rep. Joseph McDade (R-Pa.) told Tuchman he had read all of her books except the last.
"It hasn't reached soft-cover yet," cracked Yates.
"Maybe you can give me a grant," replied McDade.