[The 90’s raw: NEA artists’ press conference]

Raw footage for the award-winning series The 90's. At a press conference held by several artists who were denied Nation Endowment for the Arts funding because their work was deemed obscene by NEA chairman John E. Frohnmayer. The main theme of each speaker seems to be that because Frohnmayer has caved in to the conservatives in Congress, he has not served to protect and foster art, as is his mission as NEA chairman.

00:00Copy video clip URL The tape starts in the middle of a woman’s speech about the National Endowment for the Arts, but there is no notable visual. Around two minutes, the speaking woman is finally visible, but the focus is off. The woman onstage reads a statement by the mayor of New York, who supports the allocation of funding without restrictions, to promote artistic freedom. Videomaker Maxi Cohen is sitting behind several other people, so the visual cuts in and out.

03:58Copy video clip URL Another speaker is introduced, and she lists the theatre artists that have been denied funding: Karen Finley, John Fleck, Holly Hughes and Tim Miller. “We believe that these artists were denied funding based on the homophobic, misogynistic and racist agenda of the far right majority.” The image stabilizes but someone’s head cuts out the right side of the image. There is a long table on the stage, and a man reads out a list of names, but he is difficult to hear.

05:27Copy video clip URL Richard Hallowich (?) is introduced, and he says he is a theatre artist as well as a gay man and also AIDS activist. He calls on other artists to use their own NEA funds to help those denied funding. He says that funding is supposed to be determined by a democratic board of artists, and should not be affected by politics. He also opposes restrictions attached to grant money. “When any group is singled out for discrimination, we must all be prepared to join together with those being attacked.”

09:03Copy video clip URL The tape cuts and a woman is speaking about Frohnmayer and demanding his resignation, which elicits cheers from the crowd, and calling for someone who “is committing to serving, not betraying” the artist community. She goes on to speak about homophobia, and wants attention for the homophobia as there would be for a racist act.

12:53Copy video clip URL Another artist, Karen Finley, gets up and speaks emotionally about how she feels that she is “suffering” due to the censorship in America. “I’m angry because I’ve dedicated my life to art for people that can’t buy it,” she says, speaking about her mission to bring art to everyone. She then reads her statement angrily. “Much of my work deals with the victims in our society, yes the victims in our society, the victims in our society.” “I feel it is my responsibility… to use my talents to record history, and [to] make [my] audience more sensitive to our country’s problems. I am being punished because I am a morally concerned artist!” She likens the current political climate in the U.S. to that of the 1950s McCarthyism. She speaks specifically to critics that have written about her but never seen her perform, and how Frohnmayer ignored her invitations to see her perform, and has never spoken with her personally.

19:22Copy video clip URL After the audience claps, she continues with her statement, criticizing Frohnmayer. She calls herself a “sacrificial lamb” to appease conservatives. “This is supposed to be the National Endowment FOR the Arts, not the National Endowment AGAINST the Arts.” “It is not the art they are after, it is anyone who is different from them. They are the ones who are un-American!” She thinks the NEA is important for letting everyone create art, but there cannot be restrictions. “We must not let the hatred and biases of a few fanatics take away the freedoms of everyone.”

23:55Copy video clip URL The tape cuts to a man who says he is a panelist for the NEA, and talks about the moral center of the endowment being destroyed by the events of the last two weeks. He says that they had to reconvene to discuss three artists, and they voted unanimously to include the three. It seems that the exclusion of the four artists was done in secrecy. The man reads a statement from the panel, who says that they stand by their original recommendations. He supports the appeals and says the peer process was ignored, and the “artist process was replaced with a political process.”

31:14Copy video clip URL The tape goes to a woman speaking about freedom in America, and tells an anecdote about her daughter.

32:28Copy video clip URL Another woman speaks, addressing Senator Jesse Helms (of North Carolina), and lists the role of art in social issues. She talks about specific legal acts concerning obscenity, and enabling the NEA to ask for their money back. She talks about the freedom of expression in relation to specific artists.

36:31Copy video clip URL The tape cuts to a man who reads the official statement appealing the denial of funds. He then says he is going to Washington tomorrow to meet with congressmen, “in order to create a climate,” as well as to hear the opposition and try to win support. He also reads a statement released the previous night defining obscenity based on the community, and reads more technical statements and explains the imposition of control on the NEA. “This issue is not just our issue.” He talks about a case about a museum, and a man, Dennis, who is now facing litigation. He criticizes Frohnmayer for not even having seen the work before making his decision. He lists the (mostly arts and cultural) organizations who support his statement. He talks for a long time, and what he says is convoluted.

58:33Copy video clip URL The crowd applauds, and the camera scans the room. A man gets up and speaks to the great support they’ve had briefly. The tape cuts while he speaks.

59:23Copy video clip URL End of tape.



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