A collection of reports prepared for the White House Task Force on the Arts and the Humanities praises the "independence and professional integrity" of the National Endowment for the Arts but criticizes its overall administrative operation and calls its relationship with state arts councils rivalrous.
The most controversial item deals with the state arts councils and upset members of the National Council on the Arts, which held its quarterly meeting here this past weekend.
"It was a misrepresentation of the facts," said actor-singer Theodore Bikel, a member of the council, which advises the National Endowment for the Arts. "Anyone who's been at a council meeting when the representatives of the state arts councils appear knows that there is not a sense of extraordinary rivalry."
The report mentions the case of making grants for touring -- a function the state councils (which receive block grant funds from NEW) felt they could handle well, according to the report, but one that NEA's program directors here in Washington fought to keep in their bailiwick."The result," says the report, "was fragmentation of a function which could have achieved greater efficiencies through consolidation . . . The goals of accessibility and public service which NEA purports to promote were too readily sacrificed to NEA vanities about competition with the states."
The reports -- compiled by the task force's staff to supply information on the endowments, private support for the arts, and alternative structure for the endowments -- have not been made public but they have been sent to task force members, White House officials, Joseph Duffey, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Livingston Biddle, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Biddle gave copies of the reports to members of the National Council on the Arts. Both endowments are subject to scrutiny by the task force.
"All of this is still up in the air," said Bikel yesterday. "Some of us are going to go to the Los Angeles meeting of the task force." At that meeting, the task force is expected to begin serious consideration of what to recommend to President Reagan.
Council members have been cautious and diplomatic about what they say about the task force.The information report supplied on the NEA -- a separate report from the one just on state arts councils -- was considered to be "a fair paper," according to Bikel and other council members. That report says that the NEA's peer review panel system is an "achievement" of "ongoing and widely accepted effectiveness." As for the agency's weakness, the report says, "In an effort to do something for everyone it has spread both its financial and personnel resources very thin. In particular, the endowment's programmatic efforts have outstripped its administrative capabilities."
Some sources at the council's closed session said that members were concerned that they had not been consulted. At one point, council member Martin Friedman asked, "I'd like to know how many people at this table were consulted about these reports?" None had.
But task force staff director David Morse, who was at the session, noted that there were NEA staff members in the room who had been consulted. And, Morse said, "There are two members of the council who are on the task force." (Neither was present at the meeting this weekend.) Morse said he found the discussion, "very productive and useful."
Another item among the reports: a suggestion that President Reagan appear in televised appeals for attendance at cultural events and exhibitions called "Presidential Minutes." Modeled on the Bicentennial Minutes, they would be "a series of cultural heritage spots . . . They could be 30 seconds in length with 30 additional seconds for appended local, state or regional pieces. The president could appear for only a few seconds, in three or four basic messages, which could be repeated according to the content of a particular spot."
The report says that "staff have received indication that corporate giving officers and foundation executives would expect to be pressured by their boards to give a greater percentage to the arts and humanities if such spots appeared."
The report adds that the president, who already has attended a number of cultural events, could show up at museums, research libraries and other cultural institutions. "His participation in fundraising dinners," the report says, "especially for all the arts and cultural institutions in a given city would be no less a noble use of his office than his appearance at political fundraisers."
Another report presents ways to revamp the endowments -- merging the two, appointing a board of directors, setting up a corporation. This report doesn't advocate one or another but discusses merits and problems. The report describes how the Corporation for Public Broadcasting now works and points out pitfalls to avoid if the task force chose that model: "Although all concerned point to CPB's first Board as a model blue-ribbon panel, these same individuals describe a majority of the later appointments as being purely political in nature," says the report. "This, they say, has resulted in Boards comprised of individuals who had neither sufficient dedication to expend the necessary time nor any particular expertise in the field of public broadcasting."