Finster Garden

January 1, 2014; Createquity

The National Endowment for the Arts lost its last chair when the high profile Rocco Landesman left that post in December 2012. As NPQ reported in August, It was understood that filling the position was critical at a moment when money was scarce and politics were so polarized. But the position has remained open for more than a year now, and, indeed, there was a reduction of the NEA’s budget, even if that was in the context of relatively healthy budgets during the first part of the recession.















The agency’s budget allocations have been erratic over a period of decades—they once plummeted from $162 million in 1995 to $99 million in 1996—but the position has not since been filled. Instead, senior deputy Joan Shigekawa, widely seen as highly competent, has been the acting head. A search for a new director began immediately, but it seems that the process has run aground. Aaron Dworkin, the founder of the Sphinx Organization, was at one point seen as a leading contender, and he would have been the endowment’s first black chair had he not withdrawn himself from consideration over the summer. Similarly, the Endowment for the Humanities, which has been without a permanent chair since Jim Leach left in May, has enjoyed the capable leadership of Carole M. Watson, deputy chairwoman of that agency.

According to the Washington Post, Robert Lynch of Americans for the Arts, which advocates for arts education, says both interims are highly capable, but “what happens with permanence is the people who you are talking to understand there is a finality of vision in the conversation, not an interim view.” With interims, “the danger is stasis.”

“In my opinion,” Lynch continued, “this is entirely an administration problem and not a candidate problem… I think there is a need for there to be some fast action on NEA and NEH.”— Ruth McCambridge