The Paris Review, a leading literary quarterly, turned down a National Endowment for the Arts grant yesterday, adding its name to the growing list of institutions protesting a requirement that they sign a pledge of compliance with legislation forbidding federal funding of "obscene" art.
And a UCLA official said this week that the university is considering asking approval from the University of California system to reject NEA money, which averages $1 million a year.
These groups reacted with caution to reports that the NEA will release guidelines by July 13 stating that the restriction applies only to materials that fail the Supreme Court's long-standing obscenity test. But most said they did not expect NEA guidelines to alleviate their concerns about limitations on the content of federally funded art.
In an unrelated development, two New York performing arts spaces said yesterday that they were concerned because the General Accounting Office contacted them Thursday seeking information on the dates of appearances of four performance artists at those locations since 1984.
GAO counsel Henry Wray confirmed that an attorney in his office had asked for information from the Franklin Furnace and the Kitchen at the request of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). Helms had asked the GAO to examine the NEA's compliance with current anti-obscenity restrictions and on June 6, the agency said a preliminary analysis showed the endowment "has met its legal obligation to adopt reasonable controls" to prevent funding of obscene art.
But Wray said Helms "has a bunch of questions about things that happened in the past." He said the theaters "are not under investigation" and that "we're not demanding anything" from them.
Barbara Pollack, spokeswoman for the Franklin Furnace, said the organization -- which has received NEA grants for 15 years -- is consulting with lawyers about its response to the GAO. The Furnace has routinely filed information with the NEA on how its money was spent, she said, so the GAO request seems superfluous. "We really have not acted in any kind of secretive manner ... and we're not into helping them develop their blacklist," she said.
The Kitchen's Barbara L. Tsumagari said her organization would comply and that only one of the artists named by the GAO has performed there since 1984. But Tsumagari said the Kitchen's grant is "obviously on the line." NEA has asked the theater to provide additional information about its 1990 grant application.
The artists identified by the GAO are Karen Finley, Frank Moore, Cheri Gaulke and Johanna Went. Finley was targeted last month in a column by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak as a controversial artist because she appears partially nude. Moore, a paraplegic, also performs nude, Pollack said. "We stand behind these artists 100 percent," she said. "We think they are at the forefront of artistic excellence."
In rejecting a $10,000 grant for the Paris Review, best known for its in-depth interviews with renowned writers, Editor George Plimpton yesterday said the move made "a substantial dent in our operating budget. It's a considerable amount for us and quite a step for us to take," he said. He declined to reveal the total budget for the magazine, which has received NEA funds for the past 20 years.
Plimpton said he doubted that NEA guidelines interpreting the obscenity restriction would influence the review's position. "I don't know that literary magazine editors can sit at their desks with this thing framed over them," he said.
The two-year-old Gettysburg Review yesterday also rejected a $4,550 grant that it had planned to use to publicize an upcoming special issue on American Indian literature and culture. "It is our first NEA grant. We were rather excited about it," said Editor Peter Stitt. But he said he couldn't agree that the magazine wouldn't publish anything that the endowment might deem obscene. "How am I to know what they may consider obscene?" he asked.
Stitt and Plimpton said they doubted they would publish anything that might be deemed obscene. Stitt said he's familiar with obscenity law "and I don't need to be reminded."
At UCLA, Andrea Rich, vice chancellor for academic administration, said the university soon will reach a formal position on its NEA grants, which affect the university's performing arts center, galleries, film and television archives and research library. While she said the possibility of NEA guidelines is "a new wrinkle," she said any change wouldn't alter her personal opposition to accepting the NEA content restrictions.
"I can't help but think that any educational institution should be made nervous by language which restricts or imposes, via government strings, content control on what goes on in a university," she said.
The NEA requirement that grant recipients sign a pledge of compliance with language in its fiscal 1990 appropriations law prohibiting funding of work the endowment deems "obscene" has prompted several major institutions to reject endowment grants. The New School for Social Research sued on May 23, asking a federal court in New York to rule that the NEA may not ask recipients to sign the pledge. The school has deferred its court date until July 31 while the NEA develops its guidelines.
The NEA confirmed yesterday that the guidelines will be finished by July 13 and said the Justice Department is helping write language that implements recommendations in the GAO's June report on NEA procedures.
In a June 15 letter to members of Congress, NEA Chairman John Frohnmayer said he intends to address three areas highlighted in the GAO report. Those include a "formal policy statement" that the Supreme Court definition of obscenity will be used to determine whether NEA-funded materials are in compliance with the restrictive language.
Frohnmayer's letter said the endowment also will provide guidance on permissible activities for institutions that receive NEA funding for general operations, and a formal procedure allowing grant recipients to seek advisory opinions as to whether they are in danger of violating the restrictive language.