President Obama announced Wednesday that he plans to nominate Jane Chu as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts — a position that has remained vacant for more than a year.
Since 2006, Chu has been president of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City where she oversaw completion of the sprawling center — a $326 million project finished in 2011 using private funds.
“Jane’s lifelong passion for the arts and her background in philanthropy have made her a powerful advocate for artists and arts education in Kansas City,” Obama said in a statement. “She knows firsthand how art can open minds, transform lives and revitalize communities, and believes deeply in the importance of the arts to our national culture.”
Chu arrives to an NEA that has been plagued with declining budgets and perceived neglect by the Obama administration. In November 2012, Rocco Landesman, the former Broadway producer, stepped down from his post after serving one term. Senior deputy chair Joan Shigekawa became acting chair, though the length of her term surprised many. Many arts officials were frustrated that a strategic vision could not be enacted without a permanent chair.
Chu, though, has a reputation for fundraising prowess and executing major projects in times of fiscal uncertainty. That the Kauffman Center was built during the recession in a moderate-sized city surprised and impressed many in the arts-management field.
“If there had to be a long wait, this candidate looks like a really great person to have waited for,” said Robert L. Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts. “Her background in Kansas City at the local level is as someone who understands how the arts can transform a community. She talked about the broad array of the arts to the broad spectrum of people, which is an important philosophy to bring to the nation’s highest arts position.”
Others echoed Chu’s accomplishments in Kansas City, pointing to her central role in developing Kaufmann into one of this country’s leading regional arts centers.
“She clearly took a bold overview and leadership role” in the city’s extraordinary investment in arts infrastructure, said Marc Scorca of Opera America, noting that Kansas City has emerged as a model for its use of art as a broad tool for community enrichment, engagement and economic development.