The NEA: Choosing a chairman

Since Rocco Landesman stepped down as the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts in January of this year, little has been done by Congress to find a suitable replacement. In the meantime, Former Deputy Chairman Joan Shigekawa has been serving as the interim chairwoman.

Recent articles have suggested that Congress’ turtle-like pace at appointing a new chairman is hampering the ability of the NEA to advocate for the arts, especially in the wake of the House Appropriations Committee’s proposal to slash the NEA’s budget by more than 50% down to $75 million in FY14. Bob Lynch, CEO of Americans for the Arts (an advocacy group), is quoted in a New York Times article as saying, “The power of the N.E.A. is not the amount of money it has … but in the ‘bully pulpit’ it provides.”

Mr. Lynch, and other arts advocates, rely on the statements the NEA and Landesman have made in the past stressing the arts’ economic impact:

Mr. Landesman, for instance, has frequently noted that each dollar spent by the arts endowment generates $8 of additional investment and $26 of economic activity in the community.

First, these figures that are frequently touted to gain arts support are debatable since the methods by which they’re calculated are flawed.

Second, the job of an NEA chairman is to ensure that the agency delivers on its entire strategic plan, not just the one related to advocacy.

“To promote public knowledge and understanding about the contributions of the arts” is only one of four goals in the NEA’s strategic plan. Other goals include “creating art that meets the highest standards of excellence; engaging the public with diverse and excellent art; and enabling the NEA’s mission through organizational excellence.”

Therefore, rather than relying on Congress to choose a chairman just to argue for public support, the arts community should be focusing on who could be a chairman that could do his/her whole job effectively.

20. August 2013 by jworonkowicz
Categories: NEA | 2 comments

Comments (2)

  1. Congress doesn’t choose the NEA Chairman. The President puts forth his nominee. Congress either approves or rejects his nomination. It isn’t their role to find a new Chairman. That is the job of the Administration.
    Second, the arts community has indeed focused on who would be an effective leader and put forth qualities they would like to see in a new Chairman, as well as suggested names. The ball is in the White House’s court.
    Third, the agency can do a better job in pursuing its other strategic goals with adequate funding, and so the advocacy role is critical at this point in time.

    • Thanks for clarifying. The NEA Chairman is appointed by the President, and approved by Congress.

      No doubt there are other skills being taken into consideration in the selection of a new NEA Chairman. Nevertheless, in the public sphere, advocacy seems to envelop what other roles a good Chairman should play (as evidenced by a NY Times article documenting the arts community’s desire to have a Chairman so he/she can advocate). At a time when we see proposals in the House to cut public funding for the arts by 50%, it may be worth considering other strategies (i.e., stimulating good research) that can help us better understand the true effects of arts programs, thus making arts advocacy more effective.

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