Since the resignation in October of Jane Alexander, the National Endowment for the Arts has been waiting for President Bill Clinton to appoint a successor.
On Dec. 18, the President nominated William Ivey, current executive director of the Country Music Foundation, based in Nashville, TN. A main contributor to "Creative America," a study on American cultural life, Ivey has taught at Vanderbilt University's Blair School Of Music and is a national trustee of NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. He's served on NEA panels since 1976.
In its story on the nomination, the New York Times reported that Ivey has virtually the same background as William Ferris, who was recently appointed head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Asked about the volatile nature of the NEA slot, Ivey, 53, told the press he expects to be asked his opinion of controversial grants in the Senate hearing process. "I know that it is a high-profile, important agency that has drawn all kinds of attention," he said.
Until Ivey is confirmed, (Ms.) Scott Shanklin-Peterson, senior deputy chairman, continues running day-to-day operations of the NEA, though the pro-forma acting chairman is Kathryn Higgins.
Tony Award-winning actress Alexander served as chairperson of the National Endowment For The Arts since Oct. 1993. Alexander had been hoping to resign a month earlier but felt compelled to stay while the NEA battled to renew its annual budget. She essentially won the fight, with the House and Senate agreeing on a $98 million budget, only $1.5 million less than the year before. For the story of the budget fight, please see the Playbill On-Line story, "House Provides Shelter For NEA, NY Gets Burned." An unnamed associate of Alexander's told the Times, "She's done heroic work battling year after year to keep the Federal commitment to the arts alive. But I think it finally got to her. She's just exhausted." Alexander was the sixth chairman in the agency's 32-year history.
Says Alexander, in her official statement, "It was a great privilege to be front and center to the kaleidoscope of the arts in America... As our nation moves into the next millennium, I believe that the Endowment's role as a national voice for the arts will become even more vital."
From the U.S. President, who hand-picked Alexander for the post: "Jane Alexander has led the National Endowment For The Arts with courage, vigor, and imagination for four years. Hillary and I are grateful to her. She has served her country with the same standard of excellence she gives to her artistry." (Alexander won the 1969 Tony Award for Best Actress [Supporting or Featured, Dramatic] for her role in The Great White Hope.)
Alexander was playing the lead on Broadway in Wendy Wasserstein's The Sisters Rosensweig when she got the nod from President Clinton -- an NEA supporter -- to take the reins of the financial disbursement organization. Her first year was spent visiting 200 cities and towns across America to connect the community to the arts.
Since that time, Alexander's efforts have helped keep the NEA alive, though the constant war with House Leader Newt Gingrich, and the ever decreasing budget size resulting from those fights, have taken their toll on both her and the organization. She had previously told the Times she fantasized about making a dramatic exit from her position: "It would be easy for me to stand up and shout, `I am an artist! How can you do this?' and let the agency go down in flames." Instead, she stayed with the NEA, and, for at least one more year, the NEA will stay put.
-- By David Lefkowitz