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Miller, Tim (b. 1958)  
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Tim Miller was a little-known performance artist until he came to national attention as one of four people denied grants from the National Endowment for the Arts because of homosexual content in their shows. Since then he has built a reputation for his witty and engaging performances that are both poignant and politically acute. Miller's performances are rooted in his own life experiences, but they are also a form of glbtq activism.

Miller comes from a middle-class California family. His father was a traveling salesman, and his mother worked in a department store. Miller, the youngest of their four children, was born September 22, 1958 in Pasadena but grew up in nearby Whittier, famous for being the birthplace of Richard Nixon.

As a youth Miller read the works of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg and always felt a sense of otherness. He had an epiphany while watching a PBS show about Oscar Wilde, Feasting with Panthers (directed by Adrian Hall and Rick Hauser) in 1975. As he recalled in a 1992 interview, "It was like a lightning bolt from Zeus or Diana or somebody came right into our living room in Whittier, California. It was like I watched it and I said, 'Oh, OK. I'm gay, just like Oscar Wilde, just like Socrates.'" He shared the revelation with his family, all of whom were very supportive.

Miller's interest in performance began in high school, where he took classes in theater and dance. At nineteen he moved to New York and studied dance with Merce Cunningham.

Two years later, in 1980, Miller joined with Charles Moulton and Charles Dennis to found P.S. 122, a space for performance art. The name derives from the former school building that houses the project.

After seven years in New York, Miller returned to California and founded another performance space, Highways, in Santa Monica.

Miller developed shows based on his personal life as a gay man and also as an activist on behalf of the glbtq community. As a member of ACT UP and other organizations Miller has participated in numerous demonstrations to call for funding of AIDS research and treatment and to promote equal rights for glbtq people. His civil disobedience has led to his arrest on several occasions. He was beaten up by police when he protested at the Republican National Convention in 1992.

Supported in part by grants for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Miller staged his autobiographical shows before small houses until May 1990, when he suddenly found himself at the center of a political maelstrom.

In the wake of the controversy over NEA sponsorship of a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit, Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina led a campaign to prevent the NEA from funding "obscene or indecent" art. In September 1989 a congressional committee adopted language to prohibit federal grants for art that "may be considered obscene, including, but not limited to, depictions of sadomasochism, homoeroticism, the sexual exploitation of children, or individuals engaged in sex acts and which, when taken as a whole, do not have serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."

On the basis of this amendment, in June 1990 NEA chairman John E. Frohnmayer denied four of eighteen proposed grants despite the unanimous favorable recommendation of a panel of artists. Three of the artists--Miller, John Fleck, and Holly Hughes--are openly gay or lesbian, and the fourth, Karen Finley, deals in her work with various aspects of sexuality including homosexuality. All were previous recipients of NEA grants.

The NEA Four, as the group came to be known, sued the agency and Frohnmayer in federal court on the grounds that political rather than artistic motivations had led to the rejection of the grants. "There is no question that the work of these artists is considered excellent in the arts community," stated Ellen Yaroshefsky, one of their lawyers, adding, "The works talk about the victimization and powerlessness of women in our culture, the victimization of gay people, and the victimization of people with AIDS, and all of them express the views that heterosexuals and homosexuals should be treated equally."

The case was eventually settled out of court in June 1993. The four plaintiffs each received their original grants and also $6,000 to compensate them for invasion of privacy because of alleged leaks of information about them by the NEA.

The case cost the NEA over $200,000 in compensation to the plaintiffs' lawyers and also cost Frohnmayer his job after he admitted that he had departed from regular procedure by rejecting the panel's decisions on the NEA Four and by not permitting them to appeal his action.

Despite the settlement, however, the Clinton Justice Department appealed to preserve the "decency clause." After a trial court and a court of appeals declared the clause unconstitutional, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. In 1998, the Supreme Court ruled that the NEA could use "general standards of decency"--a decidedly vague concept--in making funding choices.

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