From all indications, the White House Task Force on the Arts and Humanities does not want to abolish the National Endownments for the Arts and the Humanities.
"Our preliminary finding," said Charlton Heston, task force co-chairman, speaking to some members of the House and Senate at a press conference yesterday in the Capitol before a task force meeting, "is that the endowments -- no matter how they might be streamlined -- remain a primary structure for fostering the arts and the humanities."
Heston, who said the task force was "nowhere near consensus" on what to recommend in its final report to President Reagan, also told the congressional group, "In the president's opinion, the endowments have been an effecitve mechanism for fostering the arts." Heston later repeated that statement to the task force at their meeting in the east conference room of the Surpreme Court building.
Yesterday's meeting, the third in a series of regional meetings, considered a variety of options for restructuring the endowments and increasing private donations. The meeting was attended by 15 members of the task force plus vice chairman Barnabas McHenry, Heston and Daniel Terra, ambassador-at-large; for cultural affairs. Early on, Chief Justice Warren Burger made a brief appearance, receiving a standing ovation. "I hope you'll take a minute or two to take a look at our museum on the ground floor," the chief justice said.
The task force as a whole will meet in August. The group's report to the president, due Sept. 1, will be late, Heston said.
On the issue of changing the endowments, Robert Lumiansky, president of the American Council of Learned Societies, said the structure of the endowments had been "effective. To alter it would be a mistake."
Said Nancy Mahta, former vice president of the 400 Group of the Los Angeles Music Center, referring to the questions of bias in the NEA and NEH, "Of 13,000 applications, only 10 brought charges of abuse and misconduct. Those were from applicants rejected or whose grants were diminished."
However, the possiblity of the endowments being rewored as some kind of corporation -- perhaps like the Corporation for Public broadcasting -- is still under consideration.
In addition, the idea of merging the two endowments was discussed, with most saying they should remain separate and Lumiansky insisting they already were together "under the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities."
After the meeting, Gordon Hanes, chairman of the board of the Hanes Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C., said, "The great advantage of merging the two is that nobody knows what the humanities are. Everybody knows what the arts are." He said it reminded him of the story about a church group in North Carolina that wanted to buy a chandelier, and one member of the group was obstinately against it. Asked why, the man replied, "For one thing, we don't have the money, and for the second thing, nobody here knows how to play one of those things."
On the issue of private giving, a task force member suggested that challenge grants -- grants made by the endowments that must be matched with three times as much private money -- be changed so that the ratio of federal money to private money is one to four or one to five, thus stimulating more private giving.
Regarding corporate giving, Hanes suggested the corporate tax rate be raised by 2 1/2 percent and that that amount of donations to philanthropic organizations be tax-deductible. this would be an incentive to corporations to give more. "It takes the corporate chief executive officer off the hook with people who come to his board meeting and say 'Don't give any of it away.' It lets you off the hook with employes and with stockholders who say 'Give it to me.'"