NEA Chairman Set to Return to a Life of Writing

by Staff

Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for the past six years, has announced that he will step down from his post in January to return to writing, the New York Times reported. The poet and politician was appointed chairman in 2003 by president George W. Bush. The next U.S. president will determine Gioia's successor.

Gioia joined the NEA at a time when the organization was, in his words, "a wounded institution," suffering budget cuts and the elimination of staff in the wake of disagreements over the funding of fringe artists. While Gioia has been criticized for not advocating enough for artists whose nontraditional work stoked controversy, he has helped cultivate programs such as Shakespeare in American Communities and Operation Homecoming, which sends writers to work with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan on telling their stories. He also oversaw the development of The Big Read and Reading at Risk, the NEA's study on literacy.

"I think the difficulty any chairman has in the NEA is to listen to and assimilate the needs of vastly different constituencies—politicians, artists, organizers, teachers, students, average citizens, urban communities, and rural communities," Gioia told the Times an interview at his office, adding that he hopes his successor will find the entryway to the post a little less rocky than he did. "We now have bipartisan consensus in the U.S. Congress, so I think that the real challenge will be to see how quickly and how capably we can grow the services of the NEA."

Gioia plans to live in Washington, D.C., where he will spend part of his time directing an arts program for the Aspen Institute, a leadership development organization, and travel to California regularly to focus on writing.