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Art organizations seek strategies for survival

(Steve Winn, San Francisco Chronicle)
For advocates of public funding for the arts, it was a short acid flashback to the Robert Mapplethorpe/Karen Finley culture wars of the 1980s and ’90s. Late last year, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., found itself in the crosshairs when critics learned that a video piece on display in “Hide/Seek,” a show about sexual differences in American portraiture, contained images of ants crawling on a crucifix.

Catholic League President Bill Donohue, without having seen David Wojnarowicz’s “A Fire in My Belly,” called the 1987 work “hate speech.” Leading Republican Reps. John Boehner and Eric Cantor, among others, deplored what Cantor called “an outrageous use of taxpayer money.” The publicly supported Smithsonian pulled the piece from the show, provoking a second wave of outcries, about censorship and curatorial timidity.