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The Arts Play On

The curtain didn't fall on the National Endowment for the Arts this week, as social conservatives in the House had hoped. An amendment to restore funding for the endowment passed handily, with the help of 58 Republicans.

With secure backing in the Senate and the White House, the endowment can proceed next year with support for arts programs across the US.

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Geographical diversity, in fact, is now a key mandate for the NEA. After years of complaints that most of the money went to a few urban areas, particularly New York, Congress last year passed a measure preventing any state from receiving more than 15 percent of total NEA grants in a year. The currently budgeted amount for grants is $81 million.

The other area of major congressional concern has been the sometimes controversial nature of art backed by the agency. To discourage NEA funding for work widely viewed as obscene or profane, Congress has banned most grants to individual artists, as well as the sharing of grants with third parties.

The new rules may hamper NEA discretion, but their purposes - wider dispersal of grants and avoiding grants for work likely to disgust most taxpayers - are sound.

The NEA should have less turbulent times ahead. Judging from the substantial House GOP vote in favor of funding, even many past critics agree.

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