an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Why Now? Federal Debt Limit Lifted, Obama Chooses Chu for NEA Chair

Jane Chu, President Obama's pick to become chairman of National Endowment for the Arts Photo from Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

Jane Chu, President Obama’s pick to become chairman of National Endowment for the Arts
Photo from Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

I’ve been tweeting up a storm about President Obama‘s choice of Jane Chu to chair the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) since shortly after the White House announcement hit my inbox at 6:50 p.m. yesterday.

The initial buzz about the president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, has been generally favorable (Kansas City Star, Washington Post), although the LA Times did note that she “has had a much lower national profile than most nominees for the NEA chairmanship over the past 20 years.”

From the admiring profile of Chu that the Kansas City Star ran in 2006 (the year she assumed her Kauffman Center post), it seems that she is quietly effective—a good trait for someone who must diplomatically make her case before members of a fractious Congress.

According to the Star’s Paul Horsley:

To say that Chu has hit the ground running at the Kauffman Center would be to understate….She became known to the arts community…as someone who knew how to connect needs with those who could provide those needs.

So the big question is not, “Why did Obama choose Chu?” Instead, it’s: “Why did he take so long?”

Arts advocates frustrated by the inordinately long wait since Rocco Landesman‘s November 2012 announcement that he would leave the NEA chairmanship at the end of that year surmised that the arts were low on the Obama Administration’s priority list.

But is it pure coincidence that the President’s announcement of his “intent to nominate” Chu came just one day after the Republican-controlled House voted to raise the debt ceiling without any offsetting spending cuts that Republicans had repeatedly demanded? With some Republicans having called for zeroing the NEA’s budget, the agency might have been a candidate for sacrifice on the budget-cuts chopping block, in the interests of a debt-ceiling deal.

Still, the appointment’s confirmation process in the Democrat-controlled Senate may occasion more Republican sniping at the NEA. Chu will need to be as adept at disarming attackers as she seems to be at getting things done.

an ArtsJournal blog