NEA Leader Dana Gioia Will Step Down in 2009

News   NEA Leader Dana Gioia Will Step Down in 2009 National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia announced Sept. 12 that he will leave his position at the head of the Arts Endowment in January 2009.

He will return to writing, his primary occupation prior to leading the Arts Endowment. He will also join the Aspen Institute on a half-time basis as the first Director of the Harman/Eisner (H/E) Program in the Arts.

Gioia began his term in February 2003, becoming the NEA's ninth chairman. In December 2006 he was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate for a second, four-year term. Chairman Gioia has led a transformation of the NEA, reinvigorating the institution with a mission of bringing the best of arts and arts education to all Americans. He has also helped restore the NEA's leadership in fostering informed public discussion of important issues affecting the arts, artists, and education.

Under Gioia's chairmanship, the NEA "has effectively democratized its programs and services, maintaining the highest artistic and educational standards while achieving unprecedented outreach to millions of Americans," according to the NEA. "Gioia has also made arts education central to the agency's mission, creating many programs that combine the presentation of arts with arts education to foster the next generation of artists, audiences and patrons."

"It has been a thrilling experience to help rebuild a great American institution," stated Gioia. "We have created a new national consensus on the importance of public support for the arts and arts education. Six years ago that would have seemed unlikely.

"I announce my departure with mixed feelings. I will never have a more interesting job. But I am a writer. If I don't return to poetry soon, the Muse will never have me back." To bring the arts to all Americans, Gioia established several National Initiatives, "model programs of artistic excellence and national reach."

Shakespeare in American Communities was launched in 2003 to bring the best of live theatre to new audiences. Since then the program has become the largest tour of Shakespeare in American history. To date, 77 professional theatre companies have presented more than 4,000 performances at 3,200 schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Nearly 2,000 actors have found employment in the program which has brought over one million students into professional productions of Shakespeare. Meanwhile, over 20 million students have used the NEA's free Shakespeare materials (films, CD, and print resources) in their classrooms.

A 2004 NEA report titled "Reading at Risk" documented critical declines in literary reading among American adults. Responding to this, Gioia developed The Big Read, an effort to restore reading to the center of American culture. A partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest, The Big Read encourages communities to read, discuss, and celebrate one of 26 selections from American and world literature, such as "The Great Gatsby," and "Their Eyes Were Watching God." The program offers grants and educational materials. The Big Read has also established international exchanges with Russia, Egypt, and Mexico. To date, the NEA has funded more than 500 Big Read projects in towns and cities across all 50 states. More than 21,000 public and private organizations have collaborated on these community reads.

Other National Initiatives created under his leadership are American Masterpieces, Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest, Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, and NEA Jazz in the Schools.

In an effort to improve arts coverage in the media, Chairman Gioia launched the NEA Arts Journalism Institutes in 2004 to improve the quality and quantity of arts news coverage and criticism in specific arts disciplines. More than 250 journalists from all 50 states have participated in these professional training programs on dance, theatre, classical music, and opera. In summer 2009 the NEA and the U.S. Department of State will co-host an institute on the visual arts for 20 U.S. and international media representatives.

Chairman Gioia has garnered strong bi-partisan support for the NEA in the U.S. Congress. Throughout his term, the NEA received increased funding levels from Congress. The fiscal year 2008 budget of $144.7 million represents an increase of more than $20 million over the 2007 level of $124.5 million. This is the largest dollar increase in the NEA appropriation in 29 years.

Gioia has introduced a range of innovations while continuing the Arts Endowment's ongoing support for artists, audiences and organizations through grants. The NEA awards more than $100 million annually, investing in every state.

After his departure from the NEA, Gioia will return to his writing career, focusing primarily on poetry. An internationally acclaimed poet and critic, he received a B.A. and an M.B.A. from Stanford University and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. For 15 years he supported his writing by working as an executive for General Foods, eventually becoming vice president of marketing. His 1992 book "Can Poetry Matter?," which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, provoked discussion on the role of poetry in contemporary culture. His collection of poems, "Interrogations at Noon," won the 2002 American Book Award. His poems, translations, essays, and reviews have appeared in many magazines including The New Yorker, Atlantic, New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, and Hudson Review. He was also an arts commentator for BBC Radio. He is an active translator of poetry from Latin, Italian and German. He has written two opera libretti and collaborated with numerous composers.

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The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the largest annual national funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.