The White House Task Force on the Arts and Humanities, which met here yesterday and Sunday, hotly debated how to increase the involvement of both the National Council on the Arts and the president of the United States in raising money for the arts.
But the group, meeting in the Times Mirror Co. auditorium, did not depart from positions previously taken. These included:
There should be federal funding to the arts and humanities.
In general, endowment funds should be matched.
Private sector support for the arts should be increased.
Charlton Heston, one of the task force's chairmen, said yesterday, "I think we're moving with appropriate due speed. I think we have accomplished a great deal up to this point." Heston said one of the most significant recommendations to come out of the meetings was to "reactivate the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities."
The task force recommended that the federal council, made up of 17 officers of various federal cultural organizations including the chairmen of both national endowments, should also include private citizens. It suggested that one of those private citizens be designated chairman. In addition, the panel suggested the council meet regularly. These changes, Heston said, would make for "a refocused and motivated federal council."
Yet some task force members felt that the meeting was less than completely productive. "It's extremely difficult under the 'sunshine law' which prohibits closed meetings of federal committees to get anything done because everyone's so hesitant to speak out," said task force member and North Carolina arts patron Gordon Hanes.
Thirty-one members of the 36-member group attended this, the most crucial meeting since the task force was formed two months ago. The group is charged with considering whether the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities should be revamped, and how to increase arts funding from the private sector. The task force is co-chaired by Heston, University of Chicago president Hanna Gray and ambassador-at-large for cultural affairs Daniel Terra.
Yesterday the task force discussed tax incentives for private contributors to the arts. Another meeting will be held in September to ratify the recommendations, according to Heston. The recommendations will be presented to the president.
Among those who attended the meeting were author Toni Morrison, California Democratic activist Rosalind Wyman and Actors Equity president Theodore Bikel, all members of the National Council on the Arts, the advisory body to the National Endowment for the Arts. Morrison angrily warned the task force not to ignore the roles of minority artists. "They don't wish to be penalized because they have heard and heeded a different drummer," said Morrison.
"The plurality of the arts is very important," said Heston. "I think not one member of the task force would fail to realize the contributions of minorities to that plurality."
Regarding the role of the National Council on the Arts, businessman and task force member Joseph Coors made a motion to make the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts responsible to the National Council on the Arts. Coors (of the beer of the same name) said, "It bothers me that the chairman has absolute authority over grants. All grants should be approved by the council." But such task-force members as John Swearingen, chief executive officer of Standard Oil of Indiana, and Nancy Hanks, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, spoke against any changes in the national council. "I'm not one to make a change unless there are 10 good reasons for it," said Hanks.
But Franklin Murphy, an officer of the Times Mirror Co., pointed out that "federal funds for the arts are less than they have been. The whole thrust of our effort is to figure out how to increase private funding and the councils the national councils on the arts and the humanities had better be in that too. They just can't be precious little groups off here somewhere."
Opera singer Beverly Sills, a former member of the National Council on the Arts, responded angrily, "Frank Murphy, don't you talk about esthetic little groups." She then told him how much money she had raised over a certain number of months for the arts. Later, when she was asked by a reporter to reiterate the specific figures, she said, "I don't want to discuss it."
As for the role of the president, Barnabas McHenry, vice chairman of the task force and a New York attorney, suggested that the president might use his influence to raise money in the private sector for the arts. But task force members backed off in a hurry.
"That would be beneath the dignity of the man and the office," said Daniel Terra.
"It would be inappropriate for the president to drumbeat for the arts," agreed Heston.
The task force eventually passed a motion stating: "We reaffirm our understanding of the president's interest in the arts and humanities and applaud his involvement . . . in any way he sees fit."