Heart and Music: Michael Hammond Takes Over NEA

News   Heart and Music: Michael Hammond Takes Over NEA Michael Hammond, who founded the Pepsico Summer Fare in Purchase NY and currently serves as Dean of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, breezed through his Dec. 20 confirmation as the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. The Bush appointee has enjoyed a varied career, from being associate conductor for the American Symphony to serving as Dean of Music at SUNY Purchase. A Rhodes Scholar, Hammond also was director of Milwaukee's Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.

Michael Hammond, who founded the Pepsico Summer Fare in Purchase NY and currently serves as Dean of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, breezed through his Dec. 20 confirmation as the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. The Bush appointee has enjoyed a varied career, from being associate conductor for the American Symphony to serving as Dean of Music at SUNY Purchase. A Rhodes Scholar, Hammond also was director of Milwaukee's Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.

Upon accepting the NEA chairmanship, Hammond said in a statement, "As Americans, we are all heirs to an incredibly rich and diverse artistic and cultural heritage. It is essential, particularly at this difficult period in our history, to draw support and inspiration from that heritage, and to encourage and support the finest work of our own time. The Arts Endowment is committed to these tasks... I will advocate especially for policies and practices that enhance the experience of our young people — by giving them the insights and skills that lead to understanding and participation in the arts."

The New York Times reports that Hammond is unlikely to steer wide of the conservative course set by acting chair, Robert S. Martin, whose most recent theatrical decision involved delaying grants for a West Coast mounting of Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul (later approved) and for a performance-art exhibit by William Pope.L [sic] (denied).

On Dec. 19, the NEA doled out 819 grants to the tune of $19,43,000, less than 20 percent of the organization's total $115.2 million budget for the year. In a change from years past, when Jane Alexander and previous NEA chairs fought just to keep right-wing lawmakers from killing the Endowment altogether, the current budget is $10 million higher than last year's. The 819 grants this year were divided into the categories of "Creativity," "Organizational Capacity" and "Literature Fellowships." The "Creativity" checks went to such theatres as Chicago's Goodman and Apple Tree, Seattle Rep, Philly's Arden and Prince Music Theatre, and NYC's Folksbiene, Second Stage (to support Sorrows and Rejoicings) and Playwrights Horizons.

* Back in August, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded $1.47 million to 164 arts organizations through its Challenge America: Community Arts Development program.

Some of the recipients, which are all from inner-city or rural neighborhoods with limited arts resources, will produce theatre activities. The grants, for $5,000 or $10,000, support the development of cultural districts, civic design projects, community cultural plans and new technology to promote the arts to a wider audience.

The recipients included:

— The Foothill Theatre Company, Nevada City, CA, $10,000 to further develop the Sierra Shakespeare Festival.

— Sierra Repertory Theatre, Sonora, CA., $5,000 to produce the premiere of The Christmas Foundling during the holiday season.

— Camden Area Players, Inc., St. Marys, GA, $5,000 for renovation of a deteriorated warehouse to be used as a theatre and cultural center.

— Pillsbury House Theatre, Minneapolis, MN, $10,000 to support a partnership to use theatre to address critical issues facing the neighborhood.

— Black Mountain Swannanoa Arts Center, $10,000 to research, write and produce a folk history play, Way Back When: The Story of Black Mountain and the Swannanoa Valley.

The recipients were chosen from 284 applicants requesting over $2.545 million. Coincidentally, the "Challenge America" grants were announced just days after the announcement that the NEA's greatest political foe, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, would retire in 2002, at the end of his fifth term. An NEA spokesperson wouldn't comment on Helms except to say that the organization has been "very grateful" for its government support in the past few years.

— By David Lefkowitz and Diane Snyder