We learn today that the National Endowment for the Arts will have a new Chairman, an intriguing signal of things to come from the Obama Administration. Rocco Landesman, a prominent and impressive Broadway producer with a Yale pedigree and a St. Louis past, will succeed Dana Gioia, the previous Chairman who resigned in January as the government changed hands. I’m not sure the tone set by the New York Times article that announced the choice is exactly how I’d want to start my tenure. The Times presented it as a significant break with the previous administration. Here’s a sample:
Choosing Mr. Landesman, 61, signals that Mr. Obama plans to shake things up at the endowment. While a major source of money for arts groups around the country, it has historically been something of a sleepy bureaucracy, still best known to some for the culture wars of the 1990s.
No matter what you think of the past six years at the Endowment under Gioia’s tenure, the NEA managed to come back from the dead and build some serious political capital. No matter what a new chairman wants to do with the agency, maintaining that capital, with the Congress and the public, is critical.
The NEA has enjoyed a relatively trouble free existence in recent years. But that’s no reason to believe that it can’t instantly be in the cross hairs of hostile forces, if a campaign is mounted against it. And given the need for traction against the Obama administration among the Republican opposition, an anti-NEA campaign is not unthinkable. So one wonders if stressing continuity might be the better PR option. Of course, Landesman’s appointment has just been announced and the New York Times is not his PR firm.