LEAVING TOWN ALIVE by John Frohnmayer


Confessions of an Arts Warrior
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 The controversial former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts emerges here as a true public servant--albeit one who, admittedly, lost his moral bearings at times in a world dominated by political manipulation. Tapped in 1989--after active behind-the-scenes lobbying--to chair the NEA, Republican trial-attorney Frohnmayer found the agency embattled: ``cultural terrorists'' like Jesse Helms (wielding a portfolio of Mapplethorpe photos) wanted to end the NEA's existence, or at least to put ``content restrictions'' on government-funded art. Meanwhile, some artists, decrying state involvement in culture, also wanted to see the agency disbanded. During the author's tenure, right-wing fundamentalists kept the ``porn'' issue alive with--Frohnmayer says--lies and distortions. (The conservative Heritage Foundation criticized only 32 grants out of 90,000 given out over the course of 25 years, but the outcry over tax-funds for so-called smut made, the author says, a great fund-raiser.) Artists blamed Frohnmayer for putting restrictions on grants (which he did hoping to provoke litigation that would find the restrictions unconstitutional), but threatened censorship seemed to have less of a ``chilling effect'' than a ``heating effect'': Artists reacted strongly, with explicit sexual material and confrontational rhetoric, keeping the controversy on the front pages. Frohnmayer (an arts lover with a master's degree in Christian ethics who evinces a firm commitment to the First Amendment) thought that he could mediate the argument--but, instead, he was caught in the cross-fire, sabotaged by right-wing operatives placed in his agency by the White House, and disillusioned by a mostly spineless Congress. The author was fired in 1992, before the Republican Convention. Frohnmayer defends not only his own role but the role of art in society: a classic Washington-insider's memoir that may reach beyond the usual politics-hungry readership. (Eight-page b&w photo insert)

Pub Date: April 26th, 1993
ISBN: 0-395-65571-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1993