Leaving Town Alive: Confessions of an Arts Warrior

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9780395655719: Leaving Town Alive: Confessions of an Arts Warrior

The former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts reveals how the controversy over the infamous Mapplethorpe exhibition eventually led to his downfall and how the experience transformed him into a free-speech radical. National ad/promo. Tour.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

The controversial former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts emerges here as a true public servant--albeit one who, admittedly, lost his moral bearings at times in a world dominated by political manipulation. Tapped in 1989--after active behind-the-scenes lobbying--to chair the NEA, Republican trial-attorney Frohnmayer found the agency embattled: ``cultural terrorists'' like Jesse Helms (wielding a portfolio of Mapplethorpe photos) wanted to end the NEA's existence, or at least to put ``content restrictions'' on government-funded art. Meanwhile, some artists, decrying state involvement in culture, also wanted to see the agency disbanded. During the author's tenure, right-wing fundamentalists kept the ``porn'' issue alive with--Frohnmayer says--lies and distortions. (The conservative Heritage Foundation criticized only 32 grants out of 90,000 given out over the course of 25 years, but the outcry over tax-funds for so-called smut made, the author says, a great fund-raiser.) Artists blamed Frohnmayer for putting restrictions on grants (which he did hoping to provoke litigation that would find the restrictions unconstitutional), but threatened censorship seemed to have less of a ``chilling effect'' than a ``heating effect'': Artists reacted strongly, with explicit sexual material and confrontational rhetoric, keeping the controversy on the front pages. Frohnmayer (an arts lover with a master's degree in Christian ethics who evinces a firm commitment to the First Amendment) thought that he could mediate the argument--but, instead, he was caught in the cross-fire, sabotaged by right-wing operatives placed in his agency by the White House, and disillusioned by a mostly spineless Congress. The author was fired in 1992, before the Republican Convention. Frohnmayer defends not only his own role but the role of art in society: a classic Washington-insider's memoir that may reach beyond the usual politics-hungry readership. (Eight-page b&w photo insert) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Library Journal:

With candor and wit, Frohmayer recalls the events of his stormy two and a half years as the fifth chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). A former head of the Oregon Arts Commission, seasoned trial lawyer and accomplished singer Frohnmayer sought the chairmanship because he believed in the arts in America. Here he reveals his own errors in judgment, painting a disturbing picture of the politics of art during the Bush administration. Forced into the impossible position of dodging criticisms "from the right for his permissiveness and from the left for seeming to espouse conservative prohibitions," he saw his attempts at the NEA finally fail. Reminding us that "contemporary art deals with contemporary issues, and therein lies the rub," he has become a free-speech radical at the hands of these modern cultural terrorists. Recommended for academic libraries and large public libraries with an interest in art, cultural politics, and issues of censorship. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/92.
- Vicki Gadberry, Mars Hill Coll. Lib., N.C.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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