Even a federal agency, in rolling out news of great interest to the entire nation’s arts community, has a NY Times-first policy. The official announcement of Rocco Landesman‘s confirmation as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts states:
Mr. Landesman will not be available immediately for media interviews [emphasis added].
However, those interested in scheduling an interview in the coming
weeks should send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
That message from NEA hit my inbox at 5:14 p.m. yesterday, whereupon I dutifully e-mailed my interview request.
In today’s NY Times (and on yesterday’s nytimes.com) we disgruntledly discovered that Landesman would “not be available immediately for media interviews”…except for the NY Times.
In her scoop, Robin Pogrebin wrote:
In his first sit-down interview since his nomination by President Obama,
Mr. Landesman’s comments suggested that he may nevertheless raise
hackles on Capitol Hill after he is sworn in in the next few days.
I completely endorse one of his hackle-raising ideas, relayed by Pogrebin as the de facto pool reporter for the nation’s cultural journalists:
Mr. Landesman said he expected to focus on financing the best art, regardless of location.
“I don’t know if there’s a theater in Peoria, but I would bet that it’s not as good as Steppenwolf or the Goodman,” he said, referring to two of Chicago’s most prominent
theater companies. “There is going to be some push-back from me about
democratizing arts grants to the point where you really have to answer
some questions about artistic merit.”
Grants predicated first and foremost on artistic excellence, not geography, would restore the agency’s emphasis to where it ought to be. But there’s a reason why geography is king: to keep the Congressman from Peoria happy. A sea change in NEA grantmaking has got to be implemented very carefully and communicated compellingly, or Congressional goodwill (already fraying) will be quickly squandered. Announcing his game-changing intentions in a his first press interview may not be the best political strategy.
He talked about starting a program that he called “Our Town,” which would provide home equity loans and rent subsidies for living and working spaces to encourage artists to move to downtown areas.
Let’s remember that this is the National Endowment for the ARTS, not the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It should focus on supporting cultural projects and leave peripheral real estate and social services concerns to the appropriate federal agencies.