National Endowment for the Arts Chairman John Frohnmayer said yesterday that he is heartened by a Senate bill to reauthorize the endowment without specific content restrictions. The bill, approved by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee last week, would enable the NEA to recoup grant money from those convicted in court on obscenity charges.
Frohnmayer said at a press breakfast that he had talked with the White House "in the most general terms" about the Senate version of the reauthorization bill, but he declined to elaborate on the substance of those discussions. He said key senators on the committee "deserve tremendous credit" for crafting "a wise solution of a very thorny problem."
The Senate bill "does deal with obscenity," Frohnmayer noted, but it places the responsibility for evaluating materials with the courts rather than requiring the endowment to make such judgments.
Frohnmayer also said he endorses most of the conclusions of an independent commission appointed by the White House to study the NEA. In a report issued last week, the commission urged Congress not to impose content restrictions on the endowment but suggested a number of reforms in endowment procedures. Some of those changes have already been put in place, Frohnmayer said, but a few may be impractical because of budget constraints or administrative difficulties.
Frohnmayer said he has no immediate plans to change his stance on a controversial requirement that grant recipients sign a certification that endowment funds will not be used to create obscene work. Grant applicants must pledge compliance with a series of content restrictions imposed in the agency's fiscal 1990 appropriation.
The independent commission urged the NEA to rescind the certification requirement, which has prompted about a dozen arts groups to reject endowment money. The constitutionality of the requirement is being challenged in three lawsuits. Frohnmayer said yesterday that he is awaiting a ruling in the first of those suits, filed by the New School for Social Research, before deciding whether to change his position.
The restrictive language will die when the endowment's current appropriation expires Oct. 1. Frohnmayer said yesterday that he is still uncertain what type of legislation will take its place, and that he could not say whether grant recipients will be required to sign a comparable certification for fiscal 1991.
Legislation to reauthorize the endowment is bogged down in Congress, although there has been speculation that the House may be moving toward a bipartisan bill modeled on the Senate version. House aides speculated that a reauthorization bill might go to the floor next week. Action on the NEA appropriation has not been rescheduled since a markup session was canceled last week.