Senate confirms Broadway producer as next NEA chair

This afternoon, the U.S. Senate confirmed Broadway producer Rocco Landesman to serve as the next National Endowment for the Arts chair and former Congressman Jim Leach to serve as National Endowment for the Humanities chair. Both are expected to begin work next week.  Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert L. Lynch issued the following statement:

"Today’s Senate confirmation of Rocco Landesman and Congressman Jim Leach marks a moment of great opportunity for our nation’s cultural agencies. Landesman embarks as Chair of the nation’s arts agency with a robust agenda, an upward trajectory of funding, broad Congressional approval, and a White House committed to attracting national attention to the value of the arts and integrating them into broader domestic policies."

Rocco LandesmanUpon his nomination, Mr. Landesman said, "I am honored to receive the Senate’s vote of confirmation.  I look forward to serving the nation as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. I believe this is an auspicious time for the NEA and the country. Art is essential to the civic, economic, and cultural vitality of our nation. It reflects who we are and what we stand for — freedom of expression, imagination, and vision. I am eager to work with our many partners to bring quality arts programs to neighborhoods and communities across the country."

Congress has now recessed for August.  When they return after Labor Day, the House and Senate will resume work on finishing the appropriations process for FY 2010.  Currently, the House has approved NEA funding at $170 million but must await the Senate’s completion of their bill, which the Appropriations Committee set at only $161.3 million.   While both of these funding levels represent increases above its current budget, these bills will need to be reconciled and a final compromise bill signed into law by President Obama this fall.


Interesting Chicago-related comments in Robin Pogrebin’s NY times interview with Landesman:

While Dana Gioia, his immediate predecessor, made a point of spreading endowment funds to every Congressional district, for example, Mr. Landesman said he expected to focus on financing the best art, regardless of location.

“I don’t know if there’s a theater in Peoria, but I would bet that it’s not as good as Steppenwolf or the Goodman,” he said, referring to two of Chicago’s most prominent theater companies. “There is going to be some push-back from me about democratizing arts grants to the point where you really have to answer some questions about artistic merit.”

“And frankly,” he added, “there are some institutions on the precipice that should go over it. We might be overbuilt in some cases.”

And regarding the Arts role in the country’s economics health:

Mr. Landesman said that as chairman he will focus on the potential of the arts to help in the country’s economic recovery.

“I wouldn’t have come to the N.E.A. if it was just about padding around in the agency,” he said, and worrying about which nonprofits deserve more funds. “We need to have a seat at the big table with the grown-ups. Art should be part of the plans to come out of this recession.”

………“When you bring artists into a town, it changes the character, attracts economic development, makes it more attractive to live in and renews the economics of that town,” he said. “There are ways to draw artists into the center of things that will attract other people.”

Read the entire NY Times interview here.