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Arts Debate: government funding--necessary or evil?

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Until recent uproars over NEA funding, no one questioned very loudly the existence of the NEA. Artist Stan Edwards is hoping that the time is right for a more reasoned discussion of the issue.

His vehicle is a free symposium, entitled NEA Yea or Nay, to take place Saturday, April 20, from 7 to 9 PM in the Edward Crown Center auditorium of Loyola University, 6525 N. Sheridan, and dedicated to the memory of artist-teacher-critic Harry Bouras, beloved of thousands for his radio program on WFMT. "Harry was the one who got me thinking about this whole issue," says Edwards. " I was very struck by one of his radio shows in which he decried the "commodification of the arts.' And the hoopla last year about the NEA--on both sides--disgusted me. I wanted to do something that went beyond all that."

To that end, Edwards, an imagist painter and design generalist whose work has appeared everywhere from the Art Institute to Kiwanis magazine, began working last June to organize and assemble a panel to debate the issue. No one from the Illinois Arts Council was available, but the "yea" side does include former alderman and current professor Dick Simpson; political media consultant Brian Boyer; artist/arts administrator Sherry Rabbino, president of the Chicago Women's Caucus for Art; Joseph Zendell, executive director of the Evanston Arts Council; and, as panel anchor, artist-teacher John Yancey.

On the "nay" side are Katherine Dalton, managing editor of the conservative think magazine Chronicles; William Grampp, a visiting professor at the University of Chicago and author of Pricing the Priceless: Art, Artists, and Economics; novelist/essayist Bill Kauffman, a former legislative assistant to Senator Daniel P. Moynihan; Joseph A. Morris, who served in the Reagan administration; and anchor artist and lecturer Joseph Dejan.

It will be a good, clean fight, promises Edwards, "this is not a forum for local squabbles. There's enough of that catcalling going on in the arts as it is." Edwards is financing most of the symposium himself (it's produced in cooperation with the Heartland Institute, the free-market think tank), and will also serve as moderator.

That's in spite of his own prejudice against subsidizing the arts. But though he has a definite point of view, Edwards promises to be an evenhanded moderator. "I've gone to extraordinary efforts to present a balanced and fair debate," he says. "I'll be raising questions from both pro and con sources--and I'm even keeping the number of lines [quoted] almost exactly the same."

Edwards is hoping that the symposium will attract people willing to think about the NEA and the issue of aid to the arts, who won't just react along predetermined lines. "It's time," he says, "that we all move beyond the shallow question of what's politically correct. I think we ought to make the 90s the 'Decade of the Conscience.'" For more information call Edwards at 588-5538.

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