The Art of Compliance | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Art of Compliance 

Post-9/11, we're accustomed to such indignities as removing our shoes in airports. Still, it would surprise some to learn that even arts groups -- galleries, dance troupes, puppet festivals -- often can't get funding until they affirm that they're not, you know, terrorists.

This month, applicants seeking funding from the Heinz Endowments' popular Small Arts Initiative grant, were told just that. The Endowments wrote a letter informing grant applicants that to get their money, they must sign a "Patriot Act Compliance Statement."

The accompanying sample statement affirms that an applicant "does not directly or indirectly engage in or support any terrorist activity." Also to be affirmed: that neither the group nor any of its officers or directors "is included on any lists of terrorist organizations" compiled by the U.S. government "or any other national or international body." (Arts groups and individuals can check some of these lists online, including the U.S. Treasury Department's Specially Designated Nationals list.)

Most arts groups are nonprofits that depend on grant money -- much of it from foundations like Heinz. But they also thrive on freedom of speech and association. To one applicant, the compliance statement suggested the old anti-Communist "loyalty oaths" from the Cold War.

"It reeks of McCarthyism," said the applicant, who asked not to be named. "It just really seems un-American to me."

Such statements, however, have been standard since the anti-terrorism Patriot Act went into effect in 2001. 

"The Patriot Act applies significant penalties to grantmakers who make grants to organizations that in any way support terrorism," says a written statement from its attorney that the Heinz Endowments provided to City Paper. "One way to ensure that the Treasury Department will not impose penalties in the unlikely event that grants are made that support terrorists is to have a procedure in place to check the credentials of grantees. A procedure goes a long way to showing Treasury that the Endowments intend to comply with the requirements."

Other due diligence includes vetting organizations on Guidestar, a Web site that gathers and publicizes information about nonprofits, the statement read.

"If you want your money, you sign on," says Barbara Luderowski, executive director of the Mattress Factory museum. "Feisty as I am, I'd rather have the money than fight."

"It doesn't bother me," says performance artist Alexi Morrissey, who recently signed a similar statement for another funder. Noting that the statements don't mention the artwork itself, he adds, "I get more offended when foundations say, 'Is this [artwork] going to make young people want to move to Pittsburgh?'"

But why is Heinz's Small Arts Initiative -- which targets groups with budgets under $250,000 -- requiring compliance only now? 

The foundation was simply late in bringing the initiative to code, says spokesman Doug Root.

Still, arts types are typically among those protesting political "compliance." Doesn't the Patriot Act Compliance Statement "reek of McCarthyism," after all?

"It does," says Luderowski. "So does the whole Patriot Act."

"When they first started enforcing it, I thought so too," says Pittsburgh Filmmaker/Pittsburgh Center for the Arts executive director Charlie Humphrey. "But now it's just like, 'So what?' If I were going to violate the Patriot Act, do you think that I would admit to it?"



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