New foundation to offer arts grants

Nonprofit will fill gap created by federal cuts in funding for artists


WASHINGTON -- The arts community, stung by dramatic cutbacks in federal arts programs and virtual elimination of grants to individual artists, is stepping into the breach with a grants program of its own.

Tomorrow, a group of arts patrons and 22 arts foundations will announce the launch of the Creative Capital Foundation in New York. It will be feted at a cocktail party tomorrow evening in the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts near Soho.

The new nonprofit organization, initially financed with $5 million, will give out $1 million a year to 50 to 60 artists in the performing and visual arts.

And unlike the National Endowment for the Arts, controversy is no object.

"There was a gap in the funding of artists wanting to do new forms of art and who weren't going to be picked up by the entertainment community or the mainstream art world," said Archibald Gillies, the chairman of the board of the new foundation.

"We'll look at art that's interesting, innovative, even experimental and that challenges convention," said Gillies, who is also president of the Andy Warhol Foundation.

The initiative and decision to focus on polemical projects was sparked by the congressional culture wars over the NEA led by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Texas Republican, and conservative lawmakers and organizations.

Armey, offended that controversial artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano had benefited from NEA funding, engineered a 40 percent cut in the agency's funding and termination of most individual grants in the agency's fiscal 1996 budget.

Told of the creation of the new private-sector effort, Armey press secretary Michele Davis said, "This is what we've been saying all along. Government has no business deciding what is and what is not art."

Ironically, conservatives have always maintained that the private sector should pay for the arts and some NEA supporters worry that the new foundation could be used against the agency just as it is rebuilding congressional support.

NEA Chairman William J. Ivey, who has been in place less than a year, is asking Congress for a big increase in his budget from the current $98 million to $150 million in the 2000 fiscal budget that begins Oct. 1. And he is talking about re-instituting grants to artists in several years.

Ivey welcomes the new foundation and does not think it impedes his search for more federal dollars. "Everything the NEA does is part of arts funding in the U.S.," said Ivey. "Never are we the entire support system. The private sector needs to play a role but the NEA provides a sense of public investment, permanence and continuity that only a federal agency can bring to arts funding."

Art gallery owner Ronald Feldman, who is on the new foundation's board said, "Even with NEA funds going to individual artists, this would still be needed. It is in no way intended to replace the NEA."

Of course, federal dollars have also brought controversy.

The NEA funded a touring exhibition in the late 1980s of the work of photographer Mapplethorpe, which included homo-erotic photographs and another exhibition that included Serrano's photograph consisting of a crucifix in a vial of the artist's urine.

And would Mapplethorpe and Serrano get funding from the Creative Capital group?

"Would we shy away from that work? No," rejoined Ruby Lerner, executive director of the Creative Capital Foundation.

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