The White House is in the process of vetting candidates to lead the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This presidential appointment, which requires confirmation by the Senate, plays an important role in America's cultural life. The individual nominated to be the NEA chair has a unique opportunity to implement and actively shape cultural policy. The NEA chair sets the tone for how the arts are perceived as a matter of public policy and leads an agency that can powerfully exemplify the public value of government investment in the arts.
Such opportunities are most effectively realized through a strong state-federal partnership. While this has been true in past decades, the economic, educational, political and social changes facing our nation today make NEA collaboration with state arts agencies and NASAA even more timely and important.
To lay an early and proactive foundation for a strong working partnership, the NASAA board, assisted by the Partnership & Leadership Advisory Group, which is chaired by NASAA 1st Vice President Pam Breaux, has been advancing a set of leadership characteristics that will be valuable in strengthening the NEA and capitalizing on the benefits offered through the state-federal partnership. These characteristics, approved by the NASAA board and informed by ongoing dialogue with members, include:
- Relationships with Congress: To ensure future support for the NEA, a new chairman will need to make building relationships with members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, a priority. States and NASAA can be of tremendous help.
- Recognition of the state-federal partnership: A successful chairman will understand the value—to Congress, the NEA and the American people—of the state-federal partnership and of the 40% allocation of the NEA's program budget to states and regions, and will show a commitment to policy consultation with state arts agencies.
- A passion for public service: While nonprofit, corporate, political and artistic credentials all bring helpful perspectives, successful leadership of a federal agency calls for a special understanding of public policy, public value and public management.
- A commitment to arts education: States would welcome working with the NEA to realize a shared vision of providing every child in the United States with access to a world-class arts education. An NEA chairman can work purposefully with the state arts agencies through NASAA toward that goal.
- A commitment to interagency collaboration: The capability to move other federal offices and agencies to view artists, arts organizations and state arts agencies as resources to achieve their priority goals will strengthen all federal agencies, not just the cultural offices. NASAA and the states are allies in this important work.
NASAA has shared these characteristics with individuals influential in the vetting process, as well as with individuals who have come to our attention as potential candidates for the position.
The NASAA membership, board and staff are prepared to support and collaborate with whomever the president chooses. We intend to put candidates in the position to say to the White House and the Senate, "I know that a close collaboration with state arts agencies will help the next chairman to advance the NEA and to communicate the value of the federal agency to members of Congress. I have already spoken with NASAA, the association that represents the state arts agencies. I know that they have major interests in things relevant to your goals: advancing arts education, helping other federal agencies to draw upon arts resources and maintaining a highly consultative federal-state partnership. I'm looking forward to working with them."
Similarly, we want those who are responsible for interviewing or confirming the next NEA chairman to be comfortable saying, "We are looking for someone who has a vision for the NEA, and who understands that leading the NEA effectively includes being the nation's number-one advocate for public support of the arts, and working on key issues in partnership with the state arts agencies."
The NEA and state arts agencies are both challenged now to tackle issues with far-reaching consequences for the future. Looking beyond the immediate government funding debates, it would be useful for the NEA and state arts agencies to consider together—as partners—how best to address the following long-term, strategic questions:
New Roles for Public Agencies The ways in which people participate in the arts continue in some ways and are changing in others, affected by new technologies, cultural differences, demographic trends, education policies and other factors. Consultant and researcher Alan Brown, in a recent presentation to arts leaders, advised that we "think of arts engagement as a three-legged stool, comprised of attendance-based activity, media-based activity, and arts creation activities." Where does thinking of arts activities in these terms lead one in making decisions about agency leadership activities, grant making and relationship building?
Cross-sector Collaborations Another challenge will be how to use leadership activities and grant making to continue building the adaptive capacity of the not-for-profit arts sector, for which the NEA has a special responsibility, while at the same time advancing the public benefits provided by profit-making arts activity and amateur arts activity. State arts agencies, in common with the NEA, are exploring various aspects of creative place making and integration of the arts in community development. They also are fostering cultural districts, supporting local arts agencies, implementing creative economy initiatives, developing cultural tourism; promoting festivals and trails; and helping integrate the arts in health, healing and creative aging—all of which engage artists and organizations, professionals and amateurs, and the tax-exempt and commercial sectors. What are the most useful roles for the NEA and states to play in advancing these multisector arts activities?
Cultural Diversity Cultural diversity is a defining characteristic of American life. Tribal, national, local, racial and ethnic traditions from all over the world are practiced here, some recent and some hundreds and even thousands of years old. Both states and the NEA support artists who preserve traditions, adapt some and create new ones. In a global era, there are additional benefits (cultural, economic and political) the NEA can provide in making the art and artists of other nations available to American audiences, in fostering the global marketplace for American art and artists, in cultural exchange, and in comparative policy analysis. Should the NEA roles in fostering international understanding and exchange be the same in the future as in the past? How might state arts agencies help?
NEA leaders and state arts agency leaders have proved to be valuable resources to each other in their search for the best strategic balance in addressing key issues. NASAA looks ahead with great anticipation to building on its partnership with the NEA.