$140,000 in Art Grants Went to Group that Features Vagina Videos

Group’s ‘bus art’ encourages people to give up their cars

Screenshot of Freewaves video
November 1, 2013

A Los Angeles-based art group that has received $140,500 in taxpayer funding is promoting an obscene video on its website that ends with a man screaming into a vagina.

The Center for Individual Freedom reports that the video is one of six displayed on the homepage of "L.A. Freewaves." The National Endowment for the Arts has given the group 10 grants, and most recently paid $50,000 for Freewaves to create "bus art."

The National Endowment for the Arts did not finance the vagina video.

"When it’s not assaulting the senses of L.A. bus riders, Freewaves uses tax dollars to feature controversial videos such as 'Between,' which is currently on the home page of the group’s website," the Center for Individual Freedom said.

"The clip, which would offend many of the taxpayers who helped to subsidize its creation, shows blurry close-ups of various body parts over a bed of muffled talking and electronic whirs, until it concludes with a man yelling repeatedly into a nude woman’s vagina."

In a statement to the Washington Free Beacon, cofounder of Freewaves Anne Bray said the video did not receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

"This particular video comes from Brazil in 2002 as part of our Latin American Freewaves," she said. "It was shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (MOCA) one day and in a private gallery for one month. NEA funding was not applicable to either of those events."

"Freewaves has over 475 videos in its archive," Bray said. "The archive includes a broad range of videos from artists around world to show their work to interested online audiences."

"The mission of the archive is to provide free and open access to a collection of new media videos," she said. "The production and creation of the videos are not funded by Freewaves. Our website's front page highlights a changing random assortment of videos daily."

Another video displayed on the Freewaves homepage, "Reincarnated Scenes," features an amateur actress acting out parts from films. She does the sound effects for a Star Wars light saber, and puts a shirt over her head to become E.T.

Freewaves is a "public media" art company that specializes in video and animation. The group has received $140,500 from the National Endowment for the Arts since 2000.

Freewaves received $20,000 in taxpayer funds "To support the production and distribution of Not TV" in 2003, and $10,000 to create a website in 2008.

Freewaves was given two $25,000 grants for its "Out the Window" project in 2011 and 2013, which financed videos that were shown in 2,000 metro buses in Los Angeles.

One music video for the bus project, entitled, "Cycles of Change," encourages Californians to give up their cars in favor of bikes.

"What’s wrong with cars? Why is it important to ride a bike?" a description of the video says. "Check this video out by Dan Kwong and ride your bike this Sunday June 23rd at Ciclavia."

The song begins:

Each day we drive our metal boxes

Skies are brown

Instead of blue

We hide our eyes

From the toxins

Hope that global warming isn’t true

Other works shown on public buses included a one-minute clip of a little girl staring into a camera, a video of a doll buried in dirt, and a "Make-out Session," where people pretend to kiss themselves while "Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Baby" by Barry White plays in the background.

Additional titles included: "Have You Noticed How Much Junk Food We Eat?," "Have You Noticed How Far You Have to Go to Get to a Supermarket?," and "Have You Noticed How Often You Eat Fast Food?"

Bray said Freewaves carefully selected the videos for the bus project.

"Our NEA funding has been used for showing videos by artists on Los Angeles bus system to one million riders per day," she said. "The videos are carefully curated for that particular public setting."

She added that Freewaves uses NEA funding to "bring diverse audiences and artists together in dialogue on culture and society."

California taxpayers have also financed Freewaves. The organization has received grants from the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, California Arts Council, and the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs

The California Arts Council contributed $10,000 for the bus project.

The National Endowment for the Arts gave a total of $3.87 million in "Art Education" grants in 2013, which included $25,000 for the Freewaves bus exhibition. The agency has a budget of $138.38 million this year.

Since its establishment in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts says it has awarded more than $4 billion to "support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities."

The National Endowment for the Arts did not return a request for comment.