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Gay Artists Gain Federal Grants a Year After Being Rejected

November 6, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Two performance artists whose work deals with their gay lifestyles are being awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, one year after their first applications were vetoed by NEA Chairman John E. Frohnmayer.

Frohnmayer announced Tuesday that $8,000 fellowships have been awarded to Tim Miller of Santa Monica, Calif., and Holly Hughes of New York. They were among 735 grants made by the NEA for the final quarter of this year.

Hughes said she and Miller will continue to pursue a lawsuit challenging Frohnmayer’s original action and a congressional requirement that the NEA consider standards of decency in making its grants.

″I am grateful to get this money,″ she said in an interview. ″It’s good news for me, but I don’t think it means that the struggle is necessarily over for the art world.″

Miller said, ″I feel the chilling effect is still very much there to artists. My personal situation does not change the situation of everyone.″

Miller said he would use the grant to develop performance pieces dealing with ″the issues of my life as a gay person and the AIDS crisis.″

Frohnmayer said Miller was ranked second and Hughes tied for fourth by an artist-dominated panel that chose 19 performance artists from among 124 applicants to receive grants. The National Council on the Arts and Frohnmayer approved the decision.

″It seems to me that the only reason that I, as chairman, could throw it out and substitute my own judgment would be if I were really persuaded that there was no evidence of artistic substance in the proposed grant,″ the NEA chairman said. ″And in these two, along with every other grant we are announcing, I am persuaded there is artistic value.″

The NEA chairman said he alerted the White House that the announcement was coming, but ″Nobody in the Bush administration suggested that I should or should not approve the grants.″

Frohnmayer vetoed performance artist grants for Miller, Hughes, Karen Finley and John Fleck in June 1990. The endowment said his action was taken on artistic grounds. The four have challenged the action in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, arguing they were rejected for political reasons.

In October of last year, Congress repealed a ban on NEA grants for works deemed obscene, substituting the language about standards of decency. Two months later, Frohnmayer and the arts council approved two grants for New York theaters to produce new stage performances by Hughes and Finley.

The four artists, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, contend in their lawsuit that the decency language is unconstitutional.

Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., proposed again this year that the NEA be forbidden to finance ″patently offensive″ sexual exhibits. The House and Senate approved the proposal as part of an appropriations bill, but a conference committee tossed it out. The bill awaits President Bush’s signature.

Helms attorney John Mashburn said he told the senator about the grants and that Helms replied, ″Just remember what I said on the Senate floor: I shall return.″

Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., issued a statement today urging Bush to consider replacing Frohnmayer.

″Apparently the chairman decided it was politically expedient to wait until after Congress funded the NEA before announcing these outrageous abuses of taxpayer funds,″ Nickles said.

Miller said in his grant application that he has been creating works in Los Angeles and New York since 1978 and has performed in the United States, Canada and Europe. He described himself as a ″cultural provocateur.″

Hughes said in her application, ″I talk about being a lesbian, but in such a way that, hopefully, challenges assumptions about identity and gender for all members of the audience.″

The grant applications were obtained through a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The 735 grants, which are for the fourth quarter of the year, total $16.85 million. There are winners from all states except Arkansas and from the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam.

Included is a $35,000 grant for a ″Blues Mobile″ bus to tour public schools in the Mississippi Delta area presenting traditional blues and gospel artists, $18,000 to the Western Folk life Center at Elko, Nev., for documentation and presentation of the arts of Hispanic cowboys, and a $24,500 grant to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival for a youth program.

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