State of the arts – Chiefs ponder NEA’s future

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The National Endowment for the Arts faces big challenges in defining its role in the face of sometimes conflicting demands from politicians, taxpayers and artists, the Washington Post reports.

That was the consensus of a gathering in Cambridge, Mass., of the five surviving chairmen of the NEA.

Actress Jane Alexander, chairman from 1993 to 1997, said she wouldn’t bet on the agency’s future, the Post says.

“I do not think it is a sure thing because of the tension that exists between politicians and artists,” she told nearly 400 people gathered to commemorate the agency’s 35th anniversary.

John Frohnmayer, who headed the NEA from 1989 to 1992 and who was fired by President Bush, nodded his agreement, the Post reports.

But John Hodsoll, who headed the agency from 1981 to 1989, said he wasn’t worried because the NEA had survived many controversies.

And Livingston Biddle, chairman from 1977 to 1981, said the NEA had survived because it served an important purpose.

“We have created something abiding,” he said, with twice the number of symphonies, 10 times the number of resident theaters and 25 times the amount of private giving.

Bill Ivey, the current chairman, said artists could help restore the central importance of the arts by participating in educational programs and serving as international ambassadors.

He also suggested that the NEA had defined the arts too narrowly, portraying it as something apart from popular culture, the Post reports.

“We have to engage the real culture that we live in as we live it,” he said.

But Frohnmayer suggested that one of the roles of the NEA is to support arts who lack commercial support.

“We are there to balance out the marketplace,” he said to a burst of applause.

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