Anne-Imelda Radice, the new head of the National Endowment for the Arts, has been on the job only a few weeks and already she is a focus of controversy. Not that controversy is anything new to the NEA: Ms. Radice became acting head of the agency after her predecessor, John Frohnmayer, was fired by President Bush to appease right-wingers who threatened to make federal funding of "dirty art" an issue in the presidential primaries.
Ms. Radice seems determined not to repeat Mr. Frohnmayer's sins. She has already turned down two exhibits that had won the support of the NEA's review panels and advisory council. One of them, "Corporal Politics," was proposed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's List Visual Arts Center. The other, "Anonymity and Identity," was planned by Virginia Commonwealth University's Anderson Gallery. Though Ms. Radice didn't mention it as a reason for rejecting the grants, both exhibits contained sexually explicit material.
In an ideal world, public arts funding agencies would be insulated from the hurly-burly of politics by just the sort of peer review panels and advisory council checks-and-balances that now operate at NEA. In the real world, however, it is the relative independence of these panels that has landed the agency in hot water.