Senate Confirms New NEA, NEH Heads

Adrian Versteegh

Theatre producer and former professor Rocco Landesman was confirmed by the Senate on Friday as the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Landesman will take over from deputy chairman Patrice Walker Powell, who has served as acting head since poet Dana Gioia left the position in January. Also confirmed by the Senate last week was former congressman Jim Leach, tapped to head up the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Both men are expected to be sworn in within a few days.

“I believe this is an auspicious time for the NEA and the country,” Landesman said in a press release. “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.”

Landesman, who earned his doctorate in dramatic literature at Yale, is the owner and president of Jujamcyn, New York City’s third-largest Broadway theatre company. He is best known as the producer of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (1993) and Mel Brooks’s The Producers (2001). President Obama nominated Landesman in May.

Leach, a former Republican who crossed party lines to endorse Obama in 2008, is currently a visiting professor at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He succeeds art historian Bruce Cole as chairman of the NEH, the public grant-making body charged with supporting academics, authors, documentarians, and educators.

“At a time when deeper understanding of other cultures and greater perspective on American values have never been more relevant,” Leach told the Los Angeles Times, “financial support throughout higher education has been gravitating toward job oriented disciplines. 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.”