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Friday, June 5, 2009

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NationalAssembly of State Arts Agencies

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Executive Director's Column

NASAA Executive Director Jonathan Katz

If his nomination is approved by the Senate as expected, theatrical producer Rocco Landesman will be the next chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). As chief executive officer of NASAA I have worked in partnership with six NEA chairs and four acting chairs. Each person occupying that daunting position has brought unique capabilities, experience and perspective to the tasks. In the process of demonstrating the public value of the arts, each addressed unanticipated issues and situations. Each contributed to the future prospect of the agency by undertaking new roles as its leader, by showing how the NEA could advance its values of excellence and access in new ways. All have worked closely with the state arts agencies through NASAA to implement policies important to them, as well as to extend the reach, impact and public benefit of NEA resources.

NEA leaders and state arts agency leaders are united by their common roles as public sector leaders and their shared agenda of broadening and deepening participation in the arts. That unity is strengthened by the dual interests of members of Congress and state officials in seeing federal resources widely distributed, effectively managed and well accounted for, and in seeing the cultural priorities of their state and districts supported. In addition to facilitating programmatic collaboration between the NEA and the state arts agencies, NASAA seeks always to help identify the ways that the NEA and the state arts agencies can best work together to increase public understanding of the value of the arts, to demonstrate the range of public benefits that the arts provide, and to improve support for the arts from all sources.

Some challenges must be faced by both the NEA and NASAA. That they should be addressed collaboratively at the federal and state levels makes common sense, fosters the benefits of synergy, and is good stewardship of limited resources. The current recession has revealed both the fragility and the resilience of the not-for-profit arts sector. What strategies at each governmental level will work best to build the capacity of not-for-profit arts organizations to produce and deliver art effectively in the competitive "experience economy"? In what ways can a public agency help to maximize the contributions of both for-profit and not-for-profit arts providers to public participation in the arts? The Obama administration has articulated new goals for national service and for diplomacy. In what ways can public arts agencies facilitate the participation of artists and arts organizations in the achievement of those goals? The availability to all of life-long learning in and through the arts is as essential to a healthy democracy as it is to a world-class work force. What federal and state policies, what NEA and state arts agency programs, and what new roles for the Arts Education Partnership will most effectively lead to that availability?

Dr. Landesman and the state arts agencies may be expected to ask each other these and many other questions. Recent NEA chairs have all keynoted NASAA annual meetings, met with the NASAA board of directors regularly, consulted on occasion with the NASAA executive committee, and communicated frequently with me and NASAA staff. The quality of NEA-NASAA consultation will determine the effectiveness of the federal-state arts support partnership. I have every expectation it will be excellent, building upon the relationship already in place.

On behalf of the NASAA membership, I have sent congratulations to Dr. Landesman on his nomination. As appropriate, we'll organize a proper collective welcome. Like you, I am excited about what we can accomplish together, working in partnership to advance participation in the arts.