Deborah Small, Elizabeth Sisco, Carla Kirkwood, Scott Kessler, and Louis Hock

“Back in Washington, in the battle over the survival of the National Endowment for the Arts, politicians are debating what is art and what isn’t. . . . Five San Diego artists have produced an extraordinary four-part art event that cuts to the heart of the question. . . . This is art that matters.”
-Susan Freudenheim, Los Angeles Times, 25 February 1992

The directive to remove any acknowledgement of NEA support for the “NHI” Project has nothing to do with the “NHI” Project and everything to do with the volatile political climate as election-year-pressures escalate. Patrick Buchanan’s attack on “filthy art and his promise if elected President to shut down the NEA, “padlock it and fumigate it,” is merely the latest onslaught in the war against the arts. Buchanan, who has called multiculturalism a “landfill” and thinks of progressive women as “feminazis,” is dictating the arts agenda in the United States. The “vermin” infecting the body politic and the NEA are not artists, however, but rampant intolerance and bigotry. Art that engenders dialogue and debate is not a subversive activity that needs eradication but rather expresses the vitality of work the endowment was created to support.

The NEA is now in lockstep with right-wing cultural terrorists and rabid homophobes such as Buchanan and Helms who wield a rhetoric of morality and self-righteousness to silence anyone who does not share their view. Artists must refuse to be intimidated. Communities must continue to support art that puts life, equality, and justice at its center. Dialogue and debate, criticism and dissent, are the cornerstones of a democratic society.

While the moral fumigators are busy watching over everyone else’s behavior, they systematically ignore the major social problems in our society. their attack on the arts deflects from the real social, economic, and cultural issues that no contemporary political leadership is capable of addressing.

The “NHI” Project addresses the appalling lack of priority given to a series of brutal murders of 45 women in San Diego county, many of whom were tortured, mutilated and dismembered. The project uses public space to illuminate the contradictions between a seductive tourist image promoted by city officials and the gender violence and racism endemic in “America’s Finest City.”

As in our previous projects funded by an Interarts grant, our art practice is a reclamation of public space, public discourse, and freedom of expression. Life all citizens, artists have a responsibility to question, criticize, define and help shape society.

The NEA assault denies grants to individual artists and alternative spaces, not the institutionalized cultural gatekeepers-the opera, symphony, museums, and theaters. By imposing a single aesthetic standard and attempting to direct artistic content, the NEA is participating in the restriction of constitutional liberties rather than defending them. Withdrawing support from the “NHI” project demonstrates the NEA’s ethical and moral cowardice and its inability to provide leadership in the arts any longer. The NEA has finally succumbed to the attack of a “sound-bite polemicist.”

The NEA is dead.

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