Arts Funding Redux

With the announcement last week of its second round of 2002 grants, the National Endowment for the Arts continued its conditional support of the arts in America. A total of $60.7 million was granted to organizations in the categories of Access, Arts Learning, and Heritage/Preservation. Once again, the business of government funding creates a strange vacuum of the actual act of making art, tiptoeing around it with unassailably correct programs to teach people about it, help them connect with it, and preserve it.

Washington State organizations--such as the Henry, the Washington State Arts Commission, or the Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association--have been awarded a total of $1,286,300.

To be fair, grants in the Creativity category, awarded last December, came closer to actually funding artists, with grants to dance group 33 Fainting Spells (to support Dirty Work) and the 911 Media Arts Center (to fund its Artist-in-Residence program), and certain organizations known for displaying work that's pornographic, and homosexual have been brought back into the granting fold.

Still, it will be a proud moment in the future when everyone has overcome the constraints that stand in the way of viewing, understanding, and preserving art, and there's just no art to view.

A new branch of the writers' organization PEN has been formed here in Washington. PEN, which stands for poets-playwrights-editors-essayists-novelists (although in the 1970s, when Norman Mailer suggested there was no such thing as a serious female intellectual, a furious female wag suggested it be re-named PENI, the "I" being for "intellectuals"), is an international group that lobbies the considerable power of writers behind freedom of expression. There's some disagreement about PEN's origins, but I'm nearly certain it was founded in 1921 in London by Mrs. C. A. Dawson Scott, with John Galsworthy as its first president (not, as Washington PEN's press release states, by Joseph Conrad and G. B. Shaw). Just thought I'd clear that up.

Washington PEN's president Sandi Sonnenfeld is planning a combination of political activism and writer support-group events. It remains to be seen whether professional (and well-known) writers will take this seriously. PEN's New York office exerts a seductive pull on writers; it's a much more chic (and difficult to obtain) membership. And we know that fashion has nothing to do with it.

Finally, we are dejected to announce that Bret Fetzer has abandoned The Stranger to pursue his artistic pastures. I can't tell you how much we already miss his sly humor, deep historical memory, and fluid prose. He was also perhaps the most polite person in the office, so it's pretty much bedlam around here these days.