Performance Journal Sparks Controversy in Congress (1991)


We’ve dusted off the archives, and we have a lot of incredible back issues and a full in-print set available. For a limited time we’re offering a discount code for 50% off select issues (see below), such as PJ#3, the Gender Performance issue from 1991 which sparked a lot of debate in US government halls. Read about the controversy in the Washington Post article below!

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NEA Wants Grant Money Back

washingtonpostThe Washington Post

September 30, 1991 | Todd Allan Yasui

In yet another flap over federal funding of the arts, a New York dance group announced last week that it does not plan to honor a National Endowment for the Arts request that it return part of a grant.

The NEA contends that Movement Research Inc. violated the terms of a $4,400 general services grant when it published an issue of its biannual Performance Journal in August that “does not appear to speak to the dance community on issues specific to dance or performance art,” according to a letter sent earlier this month to Movement Research from Laurence Baden, NEA deputy chairman for management. The issue, titled “Gender Performance” and guest-edited by writer and filmmaker Tom Kalin, includes nude and semi-nude photographs and essays addressing the impact of homosexuality, transsexualism, transvestitism and sexual identity on the arts.

The letter also states that Movement Research violated a grant condition that prohibits the use of federal money for material “intended to influence the public to lobby members of Congress with regard to pending legislation.” Page 8 of the journal is a provocative full-page notice – which consists mainly of a close-up photo of female genitalia – urging readers to call members of Congress to express their opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision that upheld the right of the federal government to deny funding to clinics that provide abortion counseling.

The NEA also contends that the organization was misleading in its application because it did not indicate that someone other than a Movement Research staff member would “determine the editorial content and oversee the production of the journal.”

Guy Yarden, co-director of Movement Research, said his organization does not plan to return the money because it believes the NEA’s request is motivated by fear of political pressure from critics of the agency, and not by a violation of specific legal terms of the grant. “Technicalities can be found in anything, but I don’t think that’s what generated this current situation,” said Yarden. “It’s the content of the issue.”

“I would also say that we’re aware that in the NEA’s regulations … lobbying cannot be paid for with federal funds,” said Yarden. “But when Tom {Kalin} decided to put {the notice} in the issue, it was thought of as an advocacy art project… . When we put it in, it wasn’t {considered} lobbying.”

Jill Collins, an NEA spokeswoman, would not comment on the situation, saying only that “we are attempting to resolve this.”

The NEA letter asked Movement Research to return $1,400 of the original grant money, an amount determined by an endowment auditor. Yarden said the figure was “arbitrary” and that even Movement Research staffers didn’t yet know how much NEA money was used for the publication.

Yarden said Movement Research’s board of directors has yet to decide what it will do, but he said the group hasn’t ruled out legal action.

“We completely stand behind Movement Research on this issue,” said David Mendoza, executive director of the advocacy group National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, “because this is yet one more instance of the chilling effect that is happening with the NEA. … The idea that the NEA would request that part of a grant be returned after the fact is completely ridiculous.”

“It’s a public issue and it also is very important to us that it’s clear that we did not go out of our way to make this a public issue,” said Yarden. “In essence, we’re responding to what we perceive as attacks. We didn’t do this, the NEA did this.”

As of Friday, the NEA had yet to receive any official notice from Movement Research, according to Collins. The group has until Oct. 10 to respond to the NEA request.

Todd Allan Yasui

[For the NY Times  article, click here]

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