The Playgoer: NEA's Gioia: How's he Doin'?

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

NEA's Gioia: How's he Doin'?

The Seattle P-I catches up with Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

I suppose we should be glad the Republicans (and Gioia does go on record here as being "a Republican") bothered appointing somebody who actually wants to increase the NEA budget--not only increase but "Gioia said he intends to raise the NEA's budget back to its precultural wars level."

Interesting stealth strategy he's pursued, though, to get it close.

Gioia succeeded in refocusing the country's cultural conversation on an artist who has no enemies: Shakespeare.

Gioia offered high schools across America teaching packets developed at the agency to prepare students for professional theater. Then he steered grants to professional companies and theatrical producers who were willing to work with high school audiences "in 3,000 high schools, 1,600 cities and serving 25 million American kids."

So much for the philosophy that public funding is most necessary for the things wealthy individuals won't fund. Oh well, it's something I guess. And putting actors to work.

I'll also give him props on a program for giving "returning soldiers [from Iraq] a chance to tell their stories" and getting $1 million from the Defense Department to do it. Let's just hope those "stories" are allowed to tell it like it is.

As for Gioia's nonconfrontational style, I guess it's helped get the NEA the money it needs. But even though he's a poet, he talks like a total political hack:

"I'm a poet," he said Monday before giving the keynote speech at ArtsFund's annual lunch in Seattle. "Metaphors matter to me."

Friends told him to "fight the good fight," he said, but he thought the last thing the NEA needed was a fight.

"It's the wrong metaphor. The right one is a conversation, and good conversations are always changing."

"Conversations"? Ugh, so...Hillary.

Oh, and how can I forget this: "Gioia does not agree that public funding for the arts in America lags behind Europe." Huh??? He explains:

In fact, he said, he thinks ours is a superior model.

"In Europe, arts funding comes from the government. In America, it's a partnership between private and public sources. That leads to greater diversity in arts" and a healthy focus on local communities.

Virtue out of a necessity, Dana. Virtue out of a necessity.

Isaac has more.

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