Tying Down Federal Funds for the Arts

May 25, 1990

Report Outline
Special Focus


The National Endowment for the Arts, one of the main sources of federal support for the arts, is up for reauthorization this year. As the House and Senate begin drafting the reauthorization legislation, lawmakers have begun taking sides on whether to eliminate, continue or strengthen a year-old restriction on funding obscene art. The process has turned into a heated political debate over obscenity and government censorship—a debate many members of Congress feel they can't win with the voters.

Go to top


Will new strings be attached to federal grants to artists, musicians, actors and writers? It's beginning to look that way.

Although the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and its companion agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), are barred by their charters from funding obscenity, last year Congress strengthened the prohibition by approving a measure that specifically barred federal funding for works that “may be considered obscene.” But because the law left it up to the NEA and the NEH to judge whether works were obscene and whether they lacked “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value,” some conservative members of Congress felt the measure did not go nearly far enough.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Apr. 22, 2022  Concert Safety
Feb. 08, 2019  Movie Industry Disruption
Jul. 14, 2017  Funding the Arts
Apr. 13, 2007  Stolen Antiquities
Oct. 21, 1994  Arts Funding
May 25, 1990  Tying Down Federal Funds for the Arts
Jun. 05, 1987  The Art Market
Jan. 22, 1982  Trends in Architecture
Feb. 20, 1981  Criticism and Popular Culture
Aug. 11, 1978  Support of the Arts
Sep. 27, 1974  Museum Boom
Feb. 01, 1974  Black Arts Revival
Nov. 28, 1973  New Directions in Architecture
Oct. 17, 1973  World Art Market
Dec. 25, 1970  Directions of the Dance
Jun. 04, 1969  Movies as Art
Feb. 12, 1969  Regional Theater
Mar. 27, 1968  Art and Antique Frauds
Aug. 28, 1963  Arts and the People
Aug. 02, 1961  Government and the Arts
Arts and Humanities
U.S. Constitution