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NEA Cancels Grant to Children's Book Written by Marcos; Lannan Foundation Will Provide the Money

Source: Arts Wire CURRENT at Arts Wire

WASHINGTON -- Last Tuesday, when he learned through a NEW YORK TIMES reporter that the book was written by Subcommandante Marcos, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman (NEA) William Ivey cancelled a grant for $7,500 awarded to Cinco Puntos Press of El Paso for publishing a children's book, THE STORY OF COLORS.

However, on Wednesday, the Times reported that Lannan foundation president, J. Patrick Lannan Jr., said that the Lannan Foundation would give $15,000 to subsidize the printing of the book.

Originally published in Spanish in 1997 by Colectivo Callejero, an artists cooperative in Guadalajara, Mexico which supports the Zapatistas' cause, the Book is a recounting of a Mexican folk tale about how color was created. Cinco Puntos Press was publishing the English version with illustrations by Domitila Dominguez.

"My concern was I thought there was a strong possibility that the international destination of some of the funds would result in an inappropriate use of the taxpayers' money," Ivey said, according to the WASHINGTON POST.

The book had been through the usual three-tiered review process which includes consideration by a literature panel, a vote by the National Council for the Arts, and review by the chairman. The Post reports that Ivey said the panel had focused on the artistic issues and that "the illustrations are really charming."

According to People for the American Way Foundation, (PFAWF) Marcos, a military strategist of the Zapatista guerrillas of southern Mexico, was identified in the materials filed as part of the grant application. Marcos was reportedly not to receive any part of the grant amount and waived any copyright to the story.

"Chairman Ivey's action sets a dangerous precedent that suggests that artists and their work will have to pass a political test for projects to be considered for Endowment support," said PFAWF President Carole Shields. "It's a wrong turn that should be reversed immediately."

"Ivey's expressed concern about the 'destination of NEA funds' speaks loudly about xenophobia," said Roberto Bedoya, Executive Director of the National Association of Artists Organizations. (NAAO) "Does he question the destination of NEA Funds when the Brooklyn Academy of Music presents, say, the Frankfurt Ballet or the Los Angeles County museum exhibits Van Gogh paintings?"

However, according to the Post, Rep. Ralph Regula, (OH-R) chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, said Ivey had done the right thing. "It could have grown into something that created additional problems for us. It is one of those things that slipped through the cracks but it showed that the system is working," he said. "The content itself is objectionable. It would have given people who oppose NEA another excuse to do so."

The Times reports that the book begins with the words "The men and women were sleeping or they were making love, which is a nice way to become tired and then go to sleep."

"In the text the masked rebel leader describes himself as lighting up his pipe, one of his hallmarks, and sitting down on a jungle pathway to hear a tale from an Indian elder named Antonio," Irvin Molotsky writes in the Times. "The old man recounts how mythical gods grew bored with the universe when it was tinted only in grey, and went about inventing colors one by one. In the end they pin all the colors on the tail feathers of the macaw. " The bird 'goes strutting about just in case men and women forget how many colors there are and how many ways of thinking, and that the world will be happy if all the colors and ways of thinking have their place,' the text concludes."

Bobby Byrd co-owner of Cinco Puntos Press of El Paso, said, according to the Times that "The most important thing is that it is a beautiful book." Byrd continued that "A lot of our stories in the United States have been cleaned up with a politically correct sentiment, and so much detail has been washed away. I can imagine how someone would rewrite this for an Anglo audience. There wouldn't be anybody smoking or making love."

The press will keep $7,500 in NEA funds to publish Benjamin Alire Saenz' GRANDMA FINA AND HER WONDERFUL UMBRELLAS.

Sources/resources:

Irvin Molotsky
"N.E.A. Couldn't Tell a Mexican Rebel's Book by Its Cover"
THE NEW YORK TIMES -- http://www.nytimes.com
March 10, 1999

Julia Preston "Foundation Will Bankroll Rebel Chief's Book N.E.A. Dropped"
THE NEW YORK TIMES -- http://www.nytimes.com
March 11, 1999

Jacqueline Trescott
"Arts Grant Denied For Rebel's Book"
THE WASHINGTON POST -- http://www.washingtonpost.com
March 11, 1999

PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY FOUNDATION -- http://www.pfaw.org

THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF ARTISTS' ORGANIZATIONS (NAAO) -- http://www.naao.org


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Arts Wire CURRENT is a project of Arts Wire, a national computer-based network serving the arts community. Arts Wire CURRENT features news updates on social, economic, philosophical, and political issues affecting the arts and culture. Your contributions are invited. Contact Judy Malloy, editor.

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