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Report Says Political Groups Waged `Culture War' on Arts, Artists

A NATIONWIDE pattern of attacks on artistic freedom has been documented by People for the American Way, which cites 76 examples in communities across the United States.

In its first annual report, titled "Artistic Freedom Under Attack," the group lists incidents in which plays, art exhibits, public television, dance, and other forms of artistic expression have come under censorship.

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The report notes that most examples are not connected with the National Endowment for the Arts, which since l989 has been the target of vehement attacks by conservative critics.

People for the American Way's president, Arthur Kropp, in releasing the report pointed to "the `culture war' being led by primarily political groups [that] has created a very hostile climate for the arts and for many artists.

"Now we're seeing an impact in America's local communities, where the arts and artists themselves have become targets of suspicion and vilification," Mr. Kropp says. "This environment threatens to kill the diverse cultural life of this nation."

The attacks cited in the report often focused on nudity, AIDS, race, homosexuality, profanity, and vulgarity.

The organization asserts that right-wing groups have played a major role: "Religious-right and far-right organizations, which have spearheaded the national `cultural war' and the attack on the National Endowment for the Arts, were directly involved in nearly 30 percent of the incidents in the report."

THE report was compiled through "artsave," a People for the American Way project "to meet the growing threat to freedom of expression in the arts."

Among the conclusions: "The pages of this artsave report are replete with instances in which well-intentioned individuals sought to defuse or preempt censorship challenges by sacrificing artistic expression.

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"In the name of avoiding controversy, curators removed works from gallery walls, college administrators banned plays, and government officials draped sculptures or removed them altogether. What was most striking about these incidents was that the officials seemed uniformly to consider controversy a bad thing in and of itself...."

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