Rocco Landesman Confirmed as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts
By Robin Pogrebin
The Broadway producer Rocco Landesman was confirmed by the Senate on Friday as the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Mr. Landesman, 62, produced award-winning productions like “Angels in America,” “Big River” and ”The Producers” and has for more than 20 years been president of Jujamcyn Theaters, New York’s third largest theater owner.
Jim Leach, 66, a former Republican congressman from Iowa who is now a professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, was also confirmed as the next chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Both are expected to be sworn in sometime in the next few days. Robert L. Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, a lobbying group, said the confirmations mark “a moment of great opportunity for our nations cultural agencies.”
In a telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Landesman said he was eager to get to work, which he planned to do on Tuesday. “It’s a daunting thing,” he said. “This historically has not been a great job — or not for a long time — and the challenge will be to make it one and to really accomplish something. There hasn’t been the financial commitment.”
Mr. Landesman takes over an N.E.A. that has been recovering from budget cuts imposed in the 1990’s in the wake of Congressional debate over whether controversial art was worthy of public funds.
“The N.E.A. is way behind the 1992 levels of funding,” Mr. Landesman said, referring to the year the agency’s funding reached a high of $176 million. “The funding level is almost invisible.”
Mr. Landesman’s predecessors, Dana Gioia and Bill Ivey, were known largely for repairing the N.E.A.’s image on Capitol Hill. Mr. Landesman said he hopes to continue good relationships with members of Congress, but he also has a reputation for shaking things up and he is already speaking his mind.
“It’s not easy in this climate with scarce dollars,” he said. “On the other hand, there’s a crisis among arts institutions because so many of them are going out of business or about to – it’s an emergency. Even the pathetic N.E.A. levels of funding will matter to a lot of these institutions and that funding needs to increase.”