Chairman of National Endowment for the Arts, a Broadway Veteran, Stepping Down

| November 21, 2012 2:49 PM
NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman.

NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman. Photo courtesy of Michael Eastman.

Rocco Landesman announced on Tuesday that he will  step down as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts at the end of the calendar year.  His appointment by the White House in 2009 was considered an unusual choice, but in a time of deep political disagreement as to what is worth federal funding, Landesman represented both arts advocate and a businessman.

Landesman said he coined the double-entendre  “Art Works” even before starting his one-term tenure at the NEA in 2009.  He considered the term the “guiding principle” for the federal agency and it became a branded image. Rather than funding projects solely to further achievement in the arts, the agency often linked projects that related to the economy, jobs and the quality of life in communities.

The Art Works logo for the National Endowment for the Arts was designed by New York City graphic design shop, Why Not Smile.

In 2009, Landesman went on a six-month “Art Works” tour to learn and highlight the impact of the arts in towns across the country. In 2011 the agency introduced “Our Town” funding to help public-private partnerships that strengthen the arts and address social, physical and economic needs.

In New York City, the Department of Cultural Affairs received $200,000 in “Our Town” funding to fund SPARC in 2012, an arts engagement program that places artists in residence at senior centers. Fifty artists were given free studio space and a stipend in exchange for creating programming for seniors at 44 centers.

One of  Landesman’s last initiatives reflects his belief in the arts as an economic driver, but its announcement on Oct. 26 had little chance to gain notice as the country turned its attention to Hurricane Sandy. For the first time ever, the country’s  creative sector will be measured on a macroeconomic level by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.  This new partnership between the NEA and the BEA will identify and calculate the arts and culture sector’s contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

“Our partnership with BEA gives the arts the same level of precise, national data on GDP as other sectors like manufacturing, construction, and services,” said Landesman in a statement. ” I think economists and policymakers will take notice.”

According to a 2006 report by the Alliance for the Arts, Arts as an Industry, New York City’s nonprofit cultural sector — which excludes commercial theater and film and television production — generated $5.8 billion in economic impact and 40,500 jobs.

Landesman’s career bridged the arts and finance. After earning a doctorate in Dramatic Literature at the Yale School of Drama and teaching at the Ivy League school for four years, he left to found a private investment fund but continued to work as a theater producer. He returned full-time to the arts in 1987 as president of Jujamcyn, a company that owns and operates five Broadway theaters.  He turned the finances of the company around and bought it in 2005.

Landesman’s  hits as a producer include the Tony Award-winning musical “Big River,” the Pulitzer-Prize winning drama by Tony Kushner,  “Angels in America,” and the crowd-pleasing comedy,  “The Producers.”

In a statement about his retirement, Landesman was humorous: “The time has come for me to become a cliché: I turned 65, am going to retire and cannot wait to spend more time in Miami Beach.”

Joan Shigekawa, the senior deputy chairman at the NEA, will serve as the acting head until a permanent successor is nominated and confirmed by Congress. Like Landesman, she has a long New York City-based career behind her, including work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the New York Council for the Humanities, and as mayoral appointee to the New York City Cultural Affairs Advisory Commission.

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