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Nay to NEA
June 14, 2001

G.K. Chesterton wrote, "Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere." Obviously he never sought funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Not only would Gilbert Keith have met certain rejection for pairing "art" and "morality" in the same breath, but his fusty notion of lines and limits would have made him a most unfit prospect for patronage.

Call the roll of NEA projects. There's Serrano's crucifix dunked in urine, that stroke of artistic genius sure to displace Mona Lisa in the halls of history. Sold to the American taxpayer for a mere $15,000. Or perhaps you remember "Tongues of Flame," which portrayed Christ as a drug addict or "Queer City" which played him as a pedophile? Bought for the bargain prices of $15,000 and $5,000 respectively. There's the late Robert Mapplethorpe, renowned for turning more stomachs than heads, who netted $30,000 for his homoerotic artistry, and prostitute Annie Sprinkle who took her trade to the stage for 12 taxpayer-funded performances. At present, Renee Cox contemplates a nude female Jesus in "Yo Mama's Last Supper," and Karen Finley, known for writhing naked in chocolate and bean sprouts, is exploring new themes with honey in a piece the New York Times describes as an "ungainly striptease to moaning disco" - all courtesy of the taxpayers' largesse.

Last week, President Bush finally weighed in on this perversity cloaked as creativity: "It is right for the government to support such causes." Stop and read that last line again. It's no misprint. "It is right for the government to support such causes." If his budget is any indication, Mr. Bush thinks $105 million -- $7 million more than his predecessor -- is an appropriate annual outlay.

In 1998, the chocolate-covered Finley sued the federal government alleging that a grant request had been denied for political reasons. In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court maintained that "avant-garde artists remain entirely free to epater les bourgeois [shock the middle class]; they are merely deprived of the additional satisfaction of having the bourgeois pay for it." Wrong. We are paying. More than ever. For the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival which promises "graphic, in your face sex," for "The Sluts and Godessses Video Workshop," and for a dung-encrusted depiction of the Virgin Mother.

Not so many years ago, Congress voted to abolish the agency, then settled for a $62 million bloodletting with an eye to eventual sunset. That was before President Bush prefaced conservatism with compassion and became fearful of offending the offenders. This year, his Administration will subsidize $105 million worth of filth to keep the Karen Finleys quiet, but our culture will pay a far higher price. The day will come when she will no longer be able to epater les bourgeois with her vile antics because nothing will be vulgar enough to shock us.

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