Issue 73, Spring 1999

Chief of the National Endowment for the Arts, William J. Ivey, created a new controversy when he withdrew funding for The Story of Colors, the Mexican folktale for children published by Cinco Puntos Press. Ivey revoked the grant,according to press reports, out of concern that some of the money would be used to support the Zapatista movement in Mexico, with which the book’s author, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, is affiliated. The publisher denies that the author will receive any grant money or payment for the book. The Story of Colors, based on a Mayan creation myth, addresses diversity and tolerance.

NCAC and other free expression groups have urged Ivey to reconsider the decision, which appears to have been based on Marcos’s political activities. The groups said that “The decision to revoke this grant is especially disturbing in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in NEA v. Finley. As the Court noted, ‘the NEA’s mandate is to make aesthetic judgments.? The review panel did so, and decided that The Story of Colors merited support. The decision to deny funding, based not on an aesthetic judgment but on the political views of the author, was explicitly considered and rejected by the Court:

If the NEA were to leverage its power to award subsidies…into a penalty on disfavored viewpoints, then we would confront a different case. We have stated that, even in the provision of subsidies, the Government may not ‘aim at the suppression of dangerous ideas?….”

Authors of the letter, representing American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom to Read Foundation, PEN American Center, and NCAC, have requested a meeting with Chairman Ivey. To read the entire text of the letter to the NEA, click here.