Whitfield of Hopkinsville signed the letter along with 49 other Republican congressman that objected to funding staff salaries of three San Francisco arts groups they accuse of producing obscene art.
Whitfield says his signature on the letter doesn’t mean he disapproves of the NEA’s work.
“Most of the funding that has come to my district has been quite productive,” Whitfield says. “And it’s been a program that’s been well received in the schools and [for] the local performing arts groups.”
Art critic Michel Brenson wrote a book about the culture wars of the 1990s that caused a significant funding reduction for the NEA. He says it’s not clear this letter signals a rerun to those debates.
“I think the arts have become more embedded, more populist in some way then they were 20 years ago,” Brenson says.
Whitfield signed the complaint sent just before last week’s confirmation of Rocco Landesman as the NEA’s new chairman.
Whitfield says he signed the letter on the basis of the works produced by the California groups and not because of anti-NEA sentiments in his district.
“In my district, I get a mixed bag,” he says. “A lot of people oppose any funding for the NEA and other people are quite support it. And I’ve generally always voted for funding for the NEA because I think their programs are very important.”
Last year, the advocacy group Americans for the Arts gave Whitfield a B + for his voting record on arts legislation.
Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield was among 50 Capitol Hill lawmakers who signed a letter of complaint to to the
Whitfield says he signed the letter after hearing from some San Francisco citizens who were upset that the groups were getting taxpayer money. He says he favors most the agency’s work, but thinks it should be cautious about the use of funds.
“I think that just use more common sense and I would just try to stay away from things that are obviously hot buttons that upset particular groups of people,” he says. “I mean there are so many wonderful artistic opportunities [the agency offers].”