Jane Chu confirmed as NEA chairman after position had been vacant for a year

The Senate confirmed Jane Chu as the 11th chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts on Thursday. Chu, president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, was nominated in February by President Obama after the position had remained vacant for more than a year.

“I’m honored to receive the Senate’s vote of confirmation, and I look forward to serving our nation as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts,” Chu said in a statement. “Together, we have the opportunity to show the value of connecting the arts to all Americans, and the importance of the arts in bringing communities together.”

Senior Deputy Chairman Joan Shigekawa had been acting chairman since former Broadway producer Rocco Landesman stepped down in December 2012, prompting criticism from arts organizations concerned that the lengthy vacancy made an overarching vision for the agency difficult. As the nation’s largest arts grantmaking organization, the NEA has awarded more than $5 billion since it’s 1965 congressional founding but saw its budget cut in half in the mid-1990s after a firestorm of conservative criticism killed its awards to individual artists. Recent years have been marked by declining budgets amid the recession and the across-the-board government cuts known as the sequester. This year’s $146 million appropriation roughly equaled 2012 funding levels.

Chu, who is regarded as a skilled fundraiser, will need “number one to be a national spokesperson about the value of the arts and the value of investment in the arts,” said Robert Lynch, president and CEO of the advocacy organization Americans for the Arts. Part of the NEA’s leverage involves being in dialogue with multiple sources of money, he said. “What I see is she has a deep knowledge of philanthropy in general. She is knowledgeable about multiple art forms, both performing and visual and that’s important,” and she has a strong business background.

And while he would have liked to have seen the position filled sooner, “what we have every day is opportunity,” Lynch said. “I do think a lot can be accomplished in the next two years, and I’m looking forward to that.”

In Kansas City, Chu oversaw a $413 million campaign to build the Kauffman Center — home of the Kansas City Ballet, Kansas City Symphony and Lyric Opera of Kansas City — which opened in 2011. Prior to that, Chu, the daughter of Chinese immigrants who was raised in Arkansas, had been an executive at the Kauffman Fund for Kansas City and vice president of external relations for Union Station Kansas City. She has advanced degrees in music, business administration and philanthropic studies.

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