The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities has added a broad language to already approved fellowships that require artists and art organizations to avoid producing jobs that could be considered vulgar, vulgar or political.
In a rare step made after millions of dollars in public funding was approved last month, the local arts commission said it would put an end to any grant that supports the commission deemed "lascivious, lascivious, vulgar, openly political, or excessively violent, constitutes sexual harassment, or is, in any other way, illegal. "
The leaders of the Arts expressed bafflement at the request, which several have described as an attack on their artistic freedom.
"My first reaction was just a surprise," said Sarah Browning, co-founder and executive director of Split This Rock, who received $ 70,000 in two commission scholarships. Browning herself won a $ 3,500 grant for poetry.
"It's far from the reach of anything I've ever seen," Browning said. "Being at risk is a big problem for small organizations like ours, and having said that, we can not absolutely sign it."
The DCCAH provides grants and other support to music, theater, dance and other organizations in the District that use money from the district government and the National Endowment of the Arts. It has approved around 400 grants to individuals and arts organizations for a total of over $ 12.9 million for 2019, according to its website.
The amendment states that the commission can get a grant if the organization does not comply with the new content restriction.
Leaders of the arts and others, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, describe the amendment as "an attack on artistic freedom" that could have a chilling effect on artistic expression. They ask all beneficiaries to refrain from signing the amendment and contact the committee to protest.
The vague language of the amendment is worrying for many reasons, said Deepak Gupta, a constitutional lawyer who works with the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of local artists. For example, Gupta said that a work of art or a poem that criticizes President Trump could be considered "openly political" and therefore in violation of the grant agreement.
"What [DCCAH] He is saying that if you take this money, we reserve the right to essentially censure your work, "said Gupta." This is an affront to the basic values of the First Amendment. If there's one thing we know about the First Amendment, it's that the government does not have the right to tell you what you can say about politics or gender. "
The executive director of the Washington Project for the Arts, Peter Nesbett, said that the restrictions "came out of nowhere" and go against the artistic freedom that is central to his organization.
"We are not going to sign it," said Nesbett. "We have almost $ 113,000 in funding that we won this year, and it's a big deal for us not to sign it – it's a lot of money But as an organization we're totally committed to protecting the rights of artists."
Nesbett said his organization is advising artists not to sign or sign in protest if their tax situations require action.
It is not clear what prompted the commission to send the new language to the grant contracts that had been sent in early October. Some leaders say the committee was shaken by the reaction to a recent public art project on domestic violence and that committee staff might have thought the language would protect them from legal claims.
The commissioners were not informed of the amendment before it was sent, several art leaders said. The commission is led by interim director Angie Gates, and has 15 volunteer commissioners who are nominated by the mayor.
The commission did not respond to different messages.
"If their goal was to avoid litigation, they made a serious mistake," said Gupta. "If they do not pull this amendment, the dispute is probably inevitable, I think there is a serious risk that this policy will be considered unconstitutional".