In a phone call and letter to NEA Chairman John Frohnmayer, theater impresario Joseph Papp, producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival, yesterday refused two grants totaling $323,000 and announced that due to the restrictive measures that remain in the legislation for the endowment's fiscal '91 budget, it is "impossible for the New York Shakespeare Festival to continue its relationship with the National Endowment for the Arts." The budget legislation has not yet been signed into law, but the compromises that were recently agreed to were considered still too restrictive by some. The new legislation includes a requirement that the endowment recoup funds if a grantee's work is found obscene by a court.

The legislation also requires the NEA to ensure that grants will not support indecent work or art that shows disrespect for American values. Papp, in a conversation yesterday, likened the requirements to the creation of "a kind of cultural police." Papp's decision yesterday was the largest single rejection of NEA money since the controversy began last year. Since then, more than 30 grants totaling more than $750,000 have been rejected.

Remembering Bernstein

A tribute to a cultural icon from the caretakers of culture seemed appropriate, so Kennedy Center Chairman James Wolfensohn has designated Nov. 10 as a special day to honor Leonard Bernstein. There will be a noon showing of the film musical "West Side Story" at the American Film Institute, then later that evening there will be a free performance of Bernstein's music in the Grand Foyer by the U.S. Army Band, followed by a performance by the NSO of four Bernstein pieces, including "Three Meditations From 'Mass.' " This work had been commissioned by the Kennedy Center for its opening in 1971, at which Bernstein conducted the premiere and dedicated the piece to Mstislav Rostropovich, now the symphony's music director, who will be conducting the work next week. The center is hoping that the day in honor of Bernstein can become an annual affair.

Tea at Cafritz's

Buffy Cafritz hosted a tea at her home yesterday in honor of Nancy Brinker, author of the recently published "The Race Is Run One Step at a Time," a primer for women with breast cancer and an account of Brinker's own struggle with the disease. Making her first public appearance was Jessica Carter Altman, 3-week-old wonder-daughter of actress Lynda Carter and lawyer Robert Altman. Jessica was the hit of the party, and was cooed to by Marilyn Quayle, herself an outspoken advocate of early breast cancer detection. Carter has purchased the rights to Brinker's story and hopes to star in a TV movie version in the near future.

Bantering With Barbara

At a lighthearted campaign rally in Salt Lake City, First Lady Barbara Bush went to bat for Genevieve Atwood, the Republican candidate for the congressional seat held by her opponent, Rep. Wayne Owens (D). Atwood is campaigning against a deficit reduction plan supported by Bush's husband, but wanted the world to know that she still stood behind the president. In her remarks to introduce the First Lady, Atwood declared: "I'm a President Bush supporter right down to my underwear!," drawing titters from the crowd and leading Mrs. Bush to say, "I can hardly wait to get home and tell George about that."

Chuck Conconi is off. His column will resume on Monday.