DC arts commission imposes restrictions on artistic content
Nov 6, 2018 —
It has been a while since posting. So sorry. Today is election day. In DC, that means less than in other places since, as a federal city, we don't have representation in Congress. And as a federal city, with our budget controlled by Congress and our arts commission being funded in part by the NEA, artists here are particularly vulnerable to agendas seeking to limit their visibility, influence, and voice.
A case in point...
Yesterday, in a strike against freedom of speech that bears echoes of the Culture Wars of the late 1980s, the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities issued an amendment that sets limits on the content of their grantees' work. The amendment to artist fellowship contracts reads as follows:
The Parties hereby revise Section 5 of the Original Agreement by adding, as that section’s second paragraph, the following language: “Grantee warrants that neither Grantee’s performance under this FY19 | CAH Grant Agreement Amendment Page 2 of 3 Agreement nor any tangible manifestation of Grantee’s performance under this Agreement is lewd, lascivious, vulgar, overtly political, excessively violent, constitutes sexual harassment, or is, in any other way, illegal. The interpretation of what is “lewd, lascivious, vulgar, overtly political, and/or excessively violent” shall be at the sole discretion of CAH. In the event that Grantee’s Grant-related work product and/or performance under this Agreement is deemed to be lewd, vulgar, overtly political, and/or excessively violent, CAH reserves the right to terminate this Agreement (see “Termination” policies referenced below). These warranties survive indefinitely.”
The amendment was sent to fellows just four days after the president nominated a conservative political consultant who worked on his campaign to become chair of the NEA, and a day before the election. It could be a defensive attempt to avoid a future clash between DC's mostly liberal artists and the rising tide of conservatives in our nation's capitol, but it also could be an intimidation tactic to silence artists who rely, in part, on their DCCAH grants to support their career. KEEP ARTISTS IN DC! believes that artists who find the language of this amendment concerning should write to the DCCAH to let them know how you feel--even if it won't directly impact their work. DCCAH's Interim Director is Angie Gates. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can use copy and paste this language if it helps to facilitate your communication:
"Dear Angie Gates:
It has recently come to my attention that the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities (DCCAH) is asking its artist fellows to sign contract amendments that restrict their freedom of speech in exchange for accepting their grant awards. The vaguely worded restrictions include a prohibition on content that is deemed lewd, lascivious, or overtly political. I find this unacceptable. We all know that ascertaining whether work is lewd, lascivious, or overtly political is highly subjective. I do not support limitations on restricting artists' work to acceptable content. I urge the DCCAH to reconsider this action.
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