A National Endowment for the Arts spokesman confirmed yesterday that the agency has dropped its controversial policy requiring grant recipients to sign a pledge that they will not violate congressionally imposed obscenity restrictions.
The requirement had prompted more than a dozen artists and arts institutions to reject NEA funding. Among them are the New York Shakespeare Festival, the New School for Social Research and the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company.
Three lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the pledge are pending.
The decision would seem to indicate that the endowment will not require grant recipients to certify that they will comply with language in the new legislation reauthorizing the NEA for three years.
The legislation does not include specific content restrictions, but it requires the NEA chairman to ensure that grants are made "taking into consideration general standards of decency and respect for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public." The bill also empowers the endowment to recoup funds from recipients who create works that are found to be obscene by a court.
Floyd Abrams, who represents the New School in its suit, said yesterday that he would not drop the suit challenging the requirement unless the endowment drops the requirement retroactively. "My sense is they were not going to change their position re 1990. If so, nothing has changed," he said.
Chairman John Frohnmayer had argued that the NEA should impose the requirement because applicants should be familiar with the conditions governing their grants. But Abrams said Congress's decision to drop specific content restrictions bolsters his argument that the requirement should be dropped. "The certification requirement ... has now implicitly been dropped by Congress," he said.
He added that an independent commission appointed to study endowment procedures advised against the requirement, and that the NEA's advisory council had urged Frohnmayer to drop it.
The NEA advisory council is scheduled to meet at the end of the week and Frohnmayer will address the group on the impact of legislative changes and procedural reforms imposed in the new bill.