Due to incorrect information provided by a Lewitzky Dance Company official, a July 20 Style story misreported the source of funding for a Meet the Composer grant to the company. It was funded by the Ford Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts. (Published 7/27/90)

The National Endowment for the Arts has agreed to allow grant recipients working on projects that are also funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to revise a controversial pledge that they won't create obscene art with federal money.

The agreement allows joint grant recipients to add a sentence to the current obscenity ban stating that they will comply with its provisions "to the extent that such terms and conditions, and the requirement to accept them, are lawful under the Constitution and the laws of the United States."

In a statement, the foundation said it hoped that artists would be afforded "a measure of protection" by the new language and that the additional words "will enable the NEA, the Rockefeller Foundation and our joint grantees to continue to work together." But some leaders of the protests against the NEA's anti-obscenity language said the arrangement would not allay their concerns.

The foundation also said it still opposes the anti-obscenity pledge. "Today, {artists} are being required to sign a certification that puts them in the impossible position of guessing how some faceless federal bureaucrat at some unknown future point will judge the content of their art, often art they have yet to create. We believe this is an unconstitutional requirement made worse by new guidelines that are threatening in their specifics and even more menacing where they are vague," the foundation said.

This represents the second time that the NEA has appeared particularly responsive to the Rockefeller Foundation's concerns about the anti-obscenity language. Initially grant applicants who had requested clarification of the ban were advised to consult counsel, but subsequently the Rockefeller Foundation was advised that the NEA intended to issue guidelines clarifying that the ban would be interpreted to impose existing Supreme Court standards on obscenity.

The anti-obscenity language included in the endowment's fiscal 1990 appropriation forbids the NEA to fund work that might be deemed obscene, "including but not limited to, depictions of sadomasochism, homoeroticism, the sexual exploitation of children, or individuals engaged in sex acts" if the work lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Grant recipients are required to sign a pledge of compliance.

Many well-known artists and institutions have refused and have turned down NEA funding in protest. Two lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the pledge are pending, including one by choreographer Bella Lewitzky and one by the New School for Social Research. While the current restriction expires with this year's appropriation, a pitched battle is underway in Congress over the wording of the language that will be included in the NEA's reauthorizing legislation.

The Rockefeller Foundation disclosed its agreement with the endowment in a friend-of-the-court brief filed late Wednesday in the New School case. The NEA did not respond to inquiries as to whether any grant recipient could add the qualifying language or whether that will be the exclusive privilege of grantees who also get money from the Rockefeller Foundation.

In the past, when some grant recipients have stricken the language before signing agreements to comply with terms governing NEA grants, the endowment has advised them that the deletion does not affect their obligation to abide by the anti-obscenity pledge.

The endowment and the Rockefeller Foundation jointly fund artists and arts organizations formally and informally. Among the formal programs are the Fund for U.S. Artists at International Festivals and Meet the Composer, which sets up collaborations with composers.

The Lewitzky Dance Company, which has refused to accept a $72,000 NEA grant as part of its protest of the pledge, last month received a separate $23,500 grant through the Meet the Composer program, according to company manager Darlene Neel. The company has not been asked to sign the NEA certification in connection with that grant, which is being used to create new dance and musical works with clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and composer William Thomas McKinley.

Elliot Mincberg of People for the American Way, who is counsel for the dance company in its suit challenging the obscenity ban, said he had not studied the Rockefeller Foundation's agreement with the endowment but doubts it would allay Lewitzky's concerns.

Since he argues that the anti-obscenity language is unconstitutional, he said, the language added by the Rockefeller agreement could be interpreted "as essentially nullifying the entire pledge." But the additional language fails to establish that the ban is unconstitutional, he continued.

"From a legal point of view, it's confusing and unclear what the effect would be," he said. "From a nonlegal point of view, it becomes extremely confusing. ... Artists could conclude this is still having a chilling effect."

The Rockefeller solution also failed to satisfy New York Shakespeare Festival producer Joe Papp, who has vowed to reject all NEA money as long as the restrictive language is on the books. He initiated that policy by refusing a $50,000 grant for a Latino festival, which also received $125,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation. While that joint funding presumably would have entitled Papp to append the Rockefeller language to the NEA's anti-obscenity certification, Papp said he still wouldn't accept the NEA funds.

"There's no way for me to sign that form, I don't care what words they add to it," he said. "... They try to reword it to make it palatable but the venom is in it. It's right there. There's nothing that can change that."