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Senate confirms Rocco Landesman as NEA head [Updated]

August 7, 2009 |  4:00 pm

Landesman-Leach

Rocco Landesman, the colorful head of Broadway's Jujamcyn Theaters, has been approved by the Senate to assume the top position at the National Endowment for the Arts. The Senate also unanimously confirmed Jim Leach to head the National Endowment for the Humanities.

An imposing figure on the New York theater scene, Landesman was seen by many as an unusual but welcome choice by the Obama administration to head the troubled NEA, which has been reeling from years of budget cuts and accusations of irrelevancy.

On Broadway, Landesman, 62, has had a hand in producing such high-profile shows as Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" and Mel Brooks' "The Producers." His nomination to the NEA post was announced in May.

The NEA, which has an annual operating budget of about $155 million, is largely regarded

as a passive institution that doles out grant money, rather than the aggressive cultural advocate that many wish it to be.

Landesman, who is expected to begin his new job shortly, will take over from Patrice Walker Powell, who has served as interim chairwoman since February. Dana Gioia, a poet, stepped down as NEA chief at the beginning of the year.

"I am honored to receive the Senate's vote of confirmation," Landesman said in a statement. "I believe this is an auspicious time for the NEA and the country. Art is essential to the civic, economic and cultural vitality of our nation. It reflects who we are and what we stand for -- freedom of expression, imagination, and vision. I am eager to work with our many partners to bring quality arts programs to neighborhoods and communities across the country."

Leach, 66, is a former Republican congressman from Iowa and is expected to assume his new position at the NEH in a few days. He succeeds Bruce Cole, a former Indiana University art historian, who served seven years after his 2001 appointment.

In 2008,  Leach crossed party lines and endorsed Obama for president over John McCain. He is currently a visiting professor at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The NEH, which also has an annual operating budget estimated at $155 million, makes grants to a wide field of applicants, including researchers, authors, documentary filmmakers, exhibitions and education in history, literature and arts.

"At a time when deeper understanding of other cultures and greater perspective on American values have never been more relevant, financial support throughout higher education has been gravitating toward job oriented disciplines," Leach wrote in an e-mail to Culture Monster. "In this setting my goal is to emphasize support for programs that help bridge cultural divides at home as well as abroad. Culture and its diversity should ennoble rather than serve as a threat to the human experience."

-- David Ng

Related coverage:

Can Rocco Landesman make the NEA relevant again?

U.S. House hikes arts and humanities budgets

Obama picks former Rep. Jim Leach to head National Endowment for the Humanities

Rocco Landesman: From Broadway to NEA nominee

Rocco Landesman, theater producer, nominated as NEA chairman

Photo: (left) Rocco Landesman. Credit: Peter Kramer / Getty Images. (right) James Leach. Credit: Mike Theiler / Reuters

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