Artist Colonies, `Heat Shield' From Critics, May Get U.S. Funds
By Laurence Arnold
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Nov. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Twelve years after Congress ended most funding to individual artists, the National Endowment for the Arts may reopen the flow of money to poets, musicians, writers and painters through artist colonies.
The NEA, which is in line for a budget increase of as much as 28 percent next year, plans to direct some of the additional money to the hundreds of U.S. colonies and communities that provide artists with residencies, funding and, above all, creative freedom.
``We're very excited about this,'' NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said at a Nov. 7 conference in Washington sponsored by artist communities. ``It's something we've been talking about internally for a couple of years now.''
Gioia said his plan would amend the endowment's application categories to create a specific opportunity for artist communities to win funding. The goal, he said, is to support ``individual artists creating new work.'' Arts groups apply for NEA funding in several different categories.
Colonies give artists the freedom to explore works that otherwise might be imperiled by public criticism, said Cheryl Young, executive director of the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. ``They provide a heat shield,'' she said.
Congress in 1995 sharply limited the NEA's authority to fund individual artists, a response to controversies over publicly financed art that involved nudity or addressed homosexuality and religion.
For years, Republicans in Congress expressed outrage that the NEA supported exhibits that included erotic gay photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and an Andres Serrano work depicting a crucifix immersed in urine. Republicans took control of Congress in 1995 and slashed the NEA's budget by 40 percent during the next five years while imposing the new limits on support for individual artists.
The NEA's budget, which peaked at $176 million in 1992, fell to a low of $97.6 million in 2000 and was $127 million in 2007.
The new Democratic-controlled House has approved giving the NEA $160 million in 2008, a 28 percent increase. In the Senate, also now controlled by Democrats, the Appropriations Committee has proposed a smaller, 7 percent increase, to $133 million. Differences between the House and Senate plans would have to be worked out during budget conferences.
Gioia said the NEA's plan to boost support of artist colonies is dependent on the agency being ``well treated in this budget, as we have every expectation to be.'' A program to support artist colonies, if created, wouldn't begin providing money until 2009, according to NEA spokeswoman Felicia Knight.
A poet, music critic and former General Foods executive, Gioia was appointed to the NEA post by President George W. Bush and took office in January 2003.
In an interview, he said artist colonies are technically eligible to apply for NEA funding, though they face obstacles under the agency's current system of categories.
``We don't recognize them as a unique kind of cultural entity,'' he said.
Creating a new funding category ``without question'' will increase the number of colonies that receive support, he added.
Gioia said there are hundreds of such colonies in the U.S.
The Providence, Rhode Island-based Alliance of Artists Communities says its 250 members -- communities, residency programs and individuals -- collectively support 12,000 artists annually in the U.S. and more than a dozen other countries....
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