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Hallwalls Documents Explores NEA Funding Controversy

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Tuesday night at Hallwalls, the First Amendment will be examined from the arts perspective. Two filmmakers will present their documentary archiving the controversy over National Endowment for the Arts funding. A panel of representatives from the local arts community will then discuss the future of arts funding in Western New York.

During the last decade, artists and arts organizations have come under fire by opponents of federal arts funding. Igniting the fire in the early 90s were controversial projects, like those by Robert Mapplethorpe and the now infamous NEA Four. Performance artist Karen Finley was among them, most commonly recognized, perhaps, as the woman who performed wearing nothing but chocolate.

Hallwalls Director Ed Cardoni says no one is really attacking the NEA anymore. But he says it's important to understand why.

"It's been made a little bit more politically palatable and safer in the way it's structured," Cardoni said. "So, no one is really attacking it anymore. I think it's important to understand the history of how that came about."

Filmmakers Melissa Wolf and Paul LaMarre spent two years talking with artists like Finley, as well as several other prominent artists and scholars. Their documentary takes an historical look at the controversy and the issues behind it -- censorship, politics and public funding. Cardoni says the election night screening of the documentary is a timely reminder of the NEA's tenuous existence.

"There's still a chance that with new appointments to the national council, with a new chairman coming in who has been appointed by the Bush administration, who knows what's going to happen," Cardoni said. "We could find ourselves in these battles again."

Cardoni will be on hand for a panel discussion following the screening to talk about the future of local arts funding. Joining him will be Celeste Lawson, the Executive Director of the Arts Council in Buffalo and Erie County, and Ed Taylor, former director of Just Buffalo Literary Center and current member of the National Association of Artists.

The screening begins at 7:30 Tuesday night at Hallwalls. including In 1997, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center lost a $35,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts It was at the height of controversy over what kinds of projects received NEA funding.