She won the battle, but now she's leaving the battlefield.
Tony Award-winning actress Jane Alexander, chairperson of the National Endowment For The Arts since Oct. 1993, will leave her post at the end of October and return to acting. According to a New York Times report (Oct. 8) confirmed to Playbill On-Line by the Endowment, Alexander had been hoping to resign a month earlier but felt compelled to stay while the NEA fought 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.
Until President Clinton nominates a new chairman (to be confirmed by the Senate), Scott Shanklin-Peterson, current Deputy Chairman for Grants & Partnership, will helm the ship.
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