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Acrtress Jane Alexander fires back at Gingrich over arts funding

April 24, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Actress Jane Alexander, who chairs the National Endowment for the Arts, attacked as ``elitist″ Newt Gingrich’s suggestion that entertainers become the main financial backers of the arts.

The House speaker said earlier this month that celebrities who lobby for more federal arts spending should fork out money themselves instead of burdening taxpayers.

``I feel that is a particularly elitist view, in that this (NEA) is really an agency that belongs to all the people in America and if you ask only a few very wealthy individuals, ... you are actually becoming more elitist,″ Ms. Alexander told a Senate panel Thursday.

Ms. Alexander, an award winning actress herself, did not mention Gingrich by name, but was referring to remarks he made at a news conference two weeks ago attended by Republicans demanding an end to NEA funding.

Gingrich, R-Ga., said at the time: ``The money’s available for the wealthy stars to finance the arts if they want to, but they should not come here to ask us to raise taxes on $24,000-a-year workers in order to transfer the money to New York and California.″

In her testimony before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee that deals with the NEA, Ms. Alexander cited the agency’s support for broadcasts by New York’s Metropolitan Opera as an example of how it benefits ordinary Americans.

``That reaches many people who can’t afford a $200 seat,″ she said of the opera broadcasts.

The subcommittee chairman, Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., warned that there may be reductions in the $136 million that President Clinton has proposed for the NEA in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Two years ago, after the administration strongly resisted an attempt by Republicans to eliminate the NEA, they agreed to cut its budget by 40 percent to $99 million for two successive years and then kill it for the coming year.

Ms. Alexander said she still feared that Congress would refuse to give the NEA any further money.

Both Republican and Democratic senators appeared at the hearing to support the NEA. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo, an American Indian, defended an NEA grant to California basket-weavers, a grant attacked recently by a fellow-Republican in the House.

The NEA, founded by President Johnson in 1965, provides grants for nonprofit and community art groups.

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