In the Past Lane: Historical Perspectives on American Culture

By Michael Kammen | Go to book overview

2
Culture and the State in America

During 1989-90 the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) underwent a fierce attack because it indirectly funded allegedly anti-Christian work by Andres Serrano and a Robert Mapplethorpe photographic exhibition considered pornographic by some.* In 1991a revisionist, didactic display of Western art at the National Museum of American Art (part of the Smithsonian Institution) aroused congressional ire, yet that latter episode now seems, in retrospect, a fairly calm fracas compared with the controversy generated in 1994-95 by "The Last Act," a long-planned exhibition concerning the end of World War II in the Pacific that was canceled by the Secretary of the Smithsonian because of immense political pressure and adverse publicity emanating from veterans' organizations and from Capitol Hill.

Throughout 1995 those who hoped to eliminate entirely the National Endowment for the Humanities(NEH) and NEA, the Institute of Museum Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and to reduce

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*
This essay was delivered as the presidential address at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Chicago, March 29,1996.

-75-

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