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"Certificate of Death"
for the NEA

Robert Mapplethorpe
Self-Portrait, 1978
This and the
following three
images are
from CAN's anti-NEA 
media kit.

Joel-Peter Witkin
Christ in Glory,

Joel-Peter Witkin
Le Basier (The Kiss),

Carolee Schneeman
Meat Joy, 1964,
from "Abject Art".

Martin Mawyer's book

who can save
the NEA?
by Randi Harari

The Christian Action Network (CAN),

the conservative pro-family pressure group
headquartered in Forest, Va., is preparing
its major fall offensive against the National
Endowment for the Arts. According to CAN
director Martin Mawyer, the organization
has scheduled a rally against the NEA for
Sept. 12, 1996. In a surprising display of
witty street theater, CAN protesters will
march on Capitol Hill with coffins bearing
hundreds of copies of a satirical NEA death
The official-looking Certificate of Death
accuses the NEA of funding left-wing causes,
promoting homosexuality and attacking
religion, tradition and morality. Listed
as the immediate cause of death: Using
taxpayer funds to depict Christ as a homosexual,
drug addict and a child molester. Proximal
causes listed include the famous Ron Athey
performance in Minneapolis involving an
AIDS-positive performer's blood, Andres
Serrano's Piss Christ photograph and Robert
Mapplethorpe's Self Portrait, a photograph
of the artist with the handle of a bullwhip
inserted into his rectum.
CAN clearly hopes that the demonstration,
staged at the height of the fall Presidential
campaign, will lead to the complete elimination
of the arts agency. Though NEA's budget was
drastically slashed by about 40 percent last
year (falling from about $167 million to $99.5
million), Congress has yet to make a final
determination on the arts agency's fate.
A vote could well be scheduled this autumn,
and by that time CAN's anti-NEA lobbying
campaign should be in full swing.
It will be interesting to see the effect,
if any, a renewed debate over NEA will have on
President Bill Clinton's re-election campaign.
Clinton has to date remained all-but-silent
on the arts issue, which has faded from the
headlines with the emergence of other,
even more salacious controversies, ranging
from Whitewater and Troopergate to Filegate
and Hillary Clinton's imaginary conversations
with Eleanor Roosevelt. It would seem that
the Republicans have all the ammunition that
they need without reviving a debate that
is now over five years old.
CAN's most powerful propaganda weapon against
NEA--and the group readily supplied us with
a copy--has been a binder of sadomasochistic
and anti-religious images from works funded
by the arts agency. The binder begins with
a series of 17 admittedly harrowing
photographs by Joel-Peter Witkin, identified
as an artist who has received four NEA
fellowship grants totaling $50,500. Also
included are six works by Bob Flanagan,
the sadomasochistic performance artist
and former Cystic Fibrosis poster boy
whose slogan was "Use pain to fight pain."
A series of works from the Whitney Museum's
infamous "Abject Art" show follows, including
photographs by Lynda Benglis, Mike Kelly,
Mary Kelly, John Miller, Carolee Schneeman,
Cindy Sherman and Kiki Smith. Other artists
in the CAN Collection are Elia Arce, Jack
Balas, Robert Flynt, Bruce Nauman and
Diane Rosenblum.
None of the works are explained in any manner.
They certainly aren't given any context that
might help explain them as psychological,
medical, personal or spiritual investigations.
The artists, or the institutions that showed
their work, are simply identified as NEA
grantees as if that were indictment enough.
Sent along with the binder was a copy of
Martin Mawyer's new book, Defending the
American Family, the Pro-Family Contract
with America. Mawyer refers to the National
Endowment for the Arts and the National
Endowment for the Humanities as the "Endowments
of Hatred," and fills his tome with the usual
right-wing fare. He calls for an end to
federal funding of sex education and
abortion, seeks to abolish the Department
of Education, advocates the adoption of
a school prayer amendment and the abolition
of the office of the Surgeon General. In
one of his more outlandish claims he blames
the U.S. government for the spread of AIDS--
not because of foot-dragging in disease-
prevention efforts, but because of an imagined
federal support for gay rights.
Such nonsense could be dismissed as
marginal if it weren't so effective in
swaying Congress to vote against federal
arts support. And the art world, for all
its purported imagination and media savvy,
has failed to devise anything like an
effective defense of NEA and a corresponding
concept of cultural freedom. But it looks
like the battles ahead will give us another
chance to try.
Randi Harari is a student at the
University of Pennsylvania.