NEA Chief: The Arts Can Aid Economic Recovery

Jan 21, 2010 4:57pm

ABC News’ David Chalian reports: Barack Obama’s handpicked chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts called last year’s $155 federal budget appropriation for the NEA “pathetic” and “embarrassing.” But now that legendary Broadway producer Rocco Landesman is at the helm he is hoping to make a convincing argument to the White House and to congressional leaders on Capitol Hill that  “the arts are an important part of coming out of this recession, that they can play a vital role in economic recovery and in urban revitalization.” The NEA Chairman was our guest on ABC News’ “Top Line” after he addressed the US Conference of Mayors where he announced the availability of grants for the design and planning of local communities. We’ll have to wait until President Obama rolls out his budget on Feb. 1 to see if Mr. Landesman successfully argued for increased NEA funding, but he told us today that early in his tenure he realized he was going to have to make an economic argument for more funds. “I think that I realized very early on, as soon as I was nominated, long before I was confirmed that if I went to congress, to the administration and said these arts organizations are in trouble, the San Francisco Mime Troop is going to go out of business, the Pacific Opera needs $200,000 to survive, the City Opera in New York is in trouble, the response would be ‘that’s terrible, that’s a shame but we have bigger priorities on our plate now than saving arts organizations,’ said Landesman.  “If on the other hand I could go to congressman and to the key players in the administration and say the arts are an important part of coming out of this recession, that they can play a vital role in economic recovery and in urban revitalization then I think I have a different story.  And then we get a different kind of a hearing and I think that’s what we’re right in the middle of now,” he added. Landesman also praised the stimulus bill for its quick infusion cash into arts organizations around the country.  “We got that money out the door very quickly, I think faster than anyone and it saved jobs. There’s no doubt about that and if you are an arts organization, you’re a theatre and you’ve got a number of actors on the stage well there’s not just those actors, there are there’s the administration, the designers, the director, the stage hand, all the people that are connected to it so it has a big multiplier effect and any job that you save and any money that you invest,” Landesman said. We asked him if the current recession is cause for Americans to see spending money on the arts as a luxury.  It was a notion he quickly refuted. “I don’t think it’s a luxury. I think it’s a necessity, it’s part of our humanity and in fact lifts us out of our exigent, quotidian, habitual existence. It enables us for at least a few moments to leave that very deterministic world we normally inhabit and I think the arts play a huge role in that and are really part of our humanity. It’s more necessary than ever I think,” said Landesman. You can watch our entire interview with NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman HERE: We also had our regular Thursday hashing through of all things political with Politico’s Jonathan Martin.  JMart weighed in on the aftermath of Scott Brown’s victory, President Obama’s path forward on health care, and the Edwards paternity admission. You can watch our interview with Jonathan Martin HERE:

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