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Statement in support of Arts Funding

Date: Wed, 20 Sep 1995 12:00:35 -0600 (CST)
Subject: Conservative Arts Funding Bill (complete)

"How Conservatives Can Support the Endowments In Good Faith" by Kay Bailey
Hutchison, Republican U.S. Senator from Texas; from the Editorial Section
of the LUBBOCK AVALANCHE-JOURNAL, Sunday, September 10, 1995, pg. 9A.

Culture counts. The students on Tianamen Square in 1989 who
created a statue of freedom in the likeness of our Statue of Liberty had
no problem identifying the unifying themes behind American culture,
perhaps because they see it from afar. We Americans, on the other hand,
steeped in our culture and sometimes overexposed to its more contentious
aspects, see it less clearly. We debate whether we have a common culture,
and if so, what it is and who it represents.
Federal support for the arts is a case in point. By spending tax
dollars on a number of outrageous and patently offensive projects that
purported to have cornered the market on American culture, the National
Endowment for the Arts (NEA) managed to make itself anathema to voters.
Its excesses led many to conclude that federal support for the arts should
be terminated. That, I believe, would be an unfortunate policy, one that
would leave us all poorer as citizens and as human beings. Resolved as I
am to curtail the accumulation of our burdensome federal debt, I think
there is a case to be made among conservatives for continued federal arts
and humanities funding. But what we need to add to the mix are large
portions of citizen involvement and common sense.
I have introduced legislation based on a proposal made by former
White House Counsel Leonard Garment, a longtime supporter of the NEA. My
bill would combine the National Endowment for the Arts, the National
Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum Services
(IMS) into one agency. Instead of all decisions being handed down from
Washington, the new joint endowment would devolve much decision-making
authority to the states and the people whose tax dollars supported it.
Under my bill, the new National Endowment would continue to make
direct grants to support nationally significant endeavors in the arts and
humanities. However, the bulk of public resources would go to the states
to promote greater access to the arts in our schools and communities, to
continue worthy public projects in the humanities and to improve local
museums. This approach would cut overhead and administrative costs in
Washington. And it would ensure funding for activities that have the
widest possible public audience and support. The new endowment should
administer directly only grants of national significance. Communities can
best judge the value of local arts and humanities projects better than any
national council.
The legislation I introduced also contains safeguards against the
sort of vulgarity and mediocrity that has so undermined public support for
cultural endeavors during the past 25 years. My bill will strictly
prohibit the use of Endowment money for obscene projects. To further
safeguard against irresponsibility, public funds could only be awarded to
established institutions, groups and agencies, not individuals.
Americans have the right to decline to fund art which offends
them. This is not censorship, any more than not buying a particular book
or avoiding a particular movie is censorship. This is a matter of
providing government funding, or not providing government funding. It is
not a matter of allowing or disallowing questionable "art."
Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont, the Republican chairman of the
arts and humanities subcommittee and another committed supporter of the
arts, has also offered a comprehensive reform bill. Although our
proposals differ in some respects, we agree about the value of culture and
education, and we will work together to develop an approach that all
Americans can be proud to support. The Senate will consider a
reauthorization of the endowments this fall, and I plan to promote my
proposal in that debate.
There are those who argue that all cultures - and all levels of
culture - are equal, and that there is no real American culture at all,
but rather only an amalgam of diverse cultures. But this deliberate
Balkanization of American culture ignores our singular heritage which has
drawn from many sources to create a body of American arts and letters that
is uniquely our own. It is a living tradition worth sustaining. Indeed,
the tension between composite elements keeps it vital, and timely.
An appreciation of art and culture should be part of every child's
education, whether at a prep school in New Hampshire or a public middle
school in Laredo. It is something from which our children can draw
inspiration and enrichment throughout their lives. It is also an
essential means of passing from one generation to the next the common
values and truths that bind our society together. Helping to sustain this
aspect of education is a legitimate federal function. Unlike earlier
civilizations, Americans are committed to the principle that our culture
should control government, not the other way around. Of course government
can support culture without controlling it. Our current Institute of
Museum Services provides grants to assist museums with overhead expenses,
allowing them to conserve the priceless best of their collections - and
our civilization. By this means the government supports museums without
choosing specific projects, and I would preserve this function in the new
It does no good to argue to conservatives, as liberals often do,
that federal funds confer legitimacy on worthy projects and attract
private dollars. The notion of the federal government conferring
legitimacy is more troubling than the few dollars that convey that
message. Hence, our opposition to centralized bureaucracy in our budget;
hence, the devolution of authority away from Washington which I and others
are struggling to achieve. Great art is not relative. Like other values,
its excellence is something we seek because our senses tell us it exists
and gives additional meaning to our lives. If democracy can support this
process without unduly controlling artists or offending citizens, it
should do just that.
Our culture is different from others that came before it in that,
while it celebrates the individual, it defines itself by an ability to
draw seamlessly from our diversity. Americans rightly demand an end to
obscenity and outrage, but not withdrawal of all government support for
our culture.