National Endowment for the Arts Chairman John Frohnmayer will reconsider his controversial rejection of a grant application by New York City artist Mel Chin and appears prepared to approve the project.
Frohnmayer said in a statement released yesterday that he had met with the artist and staff members and that all present "agreed that the proposal has significant artistic merit and potential for widespread public understanding and appreciation."
"I appreciate the chairman allowing an artist access to his office," Chin said yesterday. "Our interaction was extremely open and sincere." Chin said he would revise his application "with great optimism."
Frohnmayer has rejected several grant applications for controversial works in the past year; this is the first appeal that seems likely to succeed. Frohnmayer rejected the Chin application last month on grounds that it lacked artistic merit. It was the first application to be turned down despite the recommendation of both a peer review panel and the NEA's advisory council.
The rejection of Chin's application had aroused concern in the artistic community. Martin Freedman, outgoing director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, had urged Frohnmayer to reconsider the decision, calling Chin's project "a model proposal."
Unlike other rejected grant applications, the Chin proposal did not involve sexuality or nudity. The project, titled "Revival Field," was described as a plan to use plants to "remediate an area contaminated with heavy metals."
At a special meeting of the advisory council earlier this month, Frohnmayer was asked whether he had faced political pressure to deny the application. Council members also reproached him for failing to notify them of his plans. Frohnmayer denied he had acted for political reasons, and agreed to try to improve communications with council members.
In his statement, Frohnmayer said Chin's application "failed to articulate either the full aesthetic dimensions of the project or its impact on the public." Frohnmayer said he asked Chin to re-draft and resubmit the project description.
"It's an encouraging sign," said Susan Wyatt of Artists Space in New York. "It's good that the chairman was willing to meet with Mel Chin and hear from him directly." Last year Frohnmayer withdrew a $10,000 grant from a show at Artists Space dealing with AIDS, but then agreed to fund the exhibit but not an accompanying catalogue.
Wyatt said she is "very concerned" about proposed grants to controversial performance artists Karen Finley and Holly Hughes. Both have had applications rejected by Frohnmayer. Decisions on the pending grants are expected imminently.