Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



In 1989 government funding for the arts through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)' came under fire. Conservative groups vigorously attacked two controversial exhibits that received funding from the NEA. As a remedy for this supposedly inappropriate funding, conservative groups lobbied Congress strenuously either to dismantle the NEA or to limit its funding on the basis of content. The arts community responded with a vigorous campaign decrying such limits as an affront to artistic freedom and First Amendment rights. Congress placed the NEA, its funding procedures, and its record under close scrutiny when the agency applied in 1989 for its 1990 reappropriation

As a result of this scrutiny, Congress enacted in 1989 a set of con- tent-based limitations on projects that the NEA and its parallel organization, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), could fund. Under these limitations, both endowments could not fund obscene art, including homoerotic art and art depicting individuals engaged in sexual conduct. Congress further instructed the NEA that the two institutions that sponsored the controversial art projects could receive no further grants without prior congressional approval. While some championed the 1989 law as a victory for artists in light of the more restrictive limitations discussed by Congress, others felt that even these lesser limitations violated the First Amendment.