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Star Power

NEA Controversy Draws Celebrities to Capitol Hill

At the end of the 1980s, the National Endowment for the Arts found itself under fire. Controversy raged about the agency’s funding of projects that resulted in what many called obscene works of art, such as a Robert Mapplethorpe photo exhibit. The fiscal 1990 NEA authorization even required artists to sign a pledge that they would comply with restrictions prohibiting obscene works. The battle brought major celebrities to Capitol Hill to support the NEA. On a cold day in late March 1990, five members of the Creative Coalition assembled outside of the Capitol to draw attention to the agency’s plight (from left): Alec Baldwin, Ron Silver, Stephen Collins, Susan Sarandon and Christopher Reeve. But in a surprise move in the fall of 1990, House and Senate conferees agreed in the fiscal 1991 reauthorization to fund the agency for three years and left out the controversial language that restricted obscene works included in the previous year’s authorization.

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