If there are any bi-partisan statements to be made by the Bush Transition Team as it goes about reconfiguring Washington, look for Chairman Bill Ivey to remain as head of the 35-year-old National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). That may be assuming too much, however, given the rancor that exists in some political circles. Whatever the outcome, the entertainment world is closely monitoring the fate of the NEA, which was recently given a shot in the arm when Congress lifted the agency's budget by $7 million in October 2000, the first NEA budget increase since flat funding was imposed there in 1992.
The start of the government's 2001 fiscal year in October was a rosy one for NEA chairman Ivey, who has established a strong bi-partisan record. An ethnomusicologist, Ivey is embraced by the arts world without coming off as overly intellectual or elitist.
"Ivey has won confidence with conservatives because he works in a scholarly field and is interested in things that appeal to regular folk," one source said.
The agency confirms a rumor going around that Ivey has not yet been invited to remain on the job. "There has been no contact with the Bush Transition Team," said NEA spokesperson Kathy Wood. "They are supposed to contact us, not the other way around, so we just don't know what the Bush Transition Team has in mind."
Wood added that chairman Ivey would probably be receptive to a Bush offer saying, "Chairman Ivey looks forward to working with the Bush Transition Team and continuing the good work of the agency." Sources in the New York art community have told Playbill On-Line that Ivey has "signalled that he could work with this administration," and that reports indicate he would "probably be allowed to finish out his contract."
There are various deputies under the NEA chair and these key positions are expected to be filled by newcomers. At the time of the recent awards presentation festivities conducted by the National Endowment for the Humanities, many key agency staffers from NEA were preparing to move and were already "looking to jump," according to a reliable source.
While the partisan squabbling over the nomination of John Ashcroft as Attorney General has some in the arts world saying that nominee would "draw a line in the sand" and pursue a religious conservative agenda, there are others who point out that certain conservatives have traditionally been supportive of the arts.
"Both the President-elect and Laura Bush have been supportive of cultural institutions in Texas," one source said. "They have hosted fundraisers and while that support might not have translated through to the Texas [Arts] Commission, it's reasonable to assume this administration will see that more money actually gets to the states."
The bi-partisan aspect of the NEA's success predates the current political climate and both sides can lay claim to its "good works." President Kennedy, a Democrat, started the agency, but it was a Republican President, Richard Nixon (through his advisor Leonard Garment) who dramatically increased the NEA's means. "It's sad but true," said one leading Democrat from the New York arts community, "conservatives have traditionally been more supportive of endowments and public spending on the arts than Democrats." However, ever since the Reagan-Bush years, Republican politicians such as Sen. Jesse Helms have routinely attacked the agency.
Meanwhile, the discussion over the NEA continues, with speculation sometimes filling the void. While many of the suggestions encountered during the research of this article proved to have some basis in fact, one rumor was particularly surprising for many people: the unsubstantiated tale that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris once studied acting and is interested in running the NEA. During the recent Presidential election crisis in Florida, amid various Democratic calls for a recount, Harris famously stepped forward to certify the state's electoral votes for Bush. The action angered many members of the Democratic party.
"I don't think there's any merit to it," said a source, "but I have heard it said that she 'wants something in culture.'" A call to Harris' office was not returned by press time.
—By Murdoch McBride