Circa Valentine’s Day 2014, as if Cupid shot an arrow at the arts, and about 14 months after Broadway moneybags Rocco Landesman stepped down from the post, Obama finally named his pick for a new NEA chair (subject to likely approval by the Democratic-controlled Senate) to replace acting chair Joan Shikegawa: Jane Chu, president/chief executive at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, where she’s been since 2006, long before the center even opened. This yawning NEA leadership gap is discussed in Ka-ching‘s epilogue; the question now in a Ka-ching context: Is there any jazz connection to the Chu appointment beyond Kansas City being Charlie Parker’s town, hence this otherwise completely irrelevant image of his final resting place in Missouri’s Lincoln Cemetery (photo by Morir Soñando)? Probably not. Jane Chu does have a music background: she holds a Bachelor of Music in piano performance, as well as a Bachelor of Music Education, from Ouachita Baptist University, in addition to a master’s degree in piano pedagogy from Southern Methodist University, among other degrees, all well off the beaten Ivy League governmental path, but it’s not clear at this point what role, if any, jazz plays in these studies. The always stimulating Los Angeles Times Culture Monster blog took a somewhat dim view of the appointment, in a piece headlined, “Obama picks low-profile arts center executive to chair the NEA.” Writer Mike Boehm went on to note:
Chu, who has spent most of her life in the Midwest and Texas, has had a much lower national profile than most nominees for the NEA chairmanship over the past 20 years. Obama’s first appointee, Rocco Landesman, headed Jujamcyn Theaters, a leading producer and landlord for Broadway shows, before Obama tapped him in 2009. . . . Apart from a brief round of wider attention when the Kauffman Center opened, a search of Nexis, a publications data base, reflects scant press coverage of Chu outside of Missouri.
Boehm also reiterated the sad truth of Obama’s arts legacy:
Under Obama, the NEA’s budget appropriation has fallen each year since 2010, when his Democratic party lost its majority in the House of Representatives, which controls the budget reins. Funding fell from a recent peak of $167.5 million in 2010, according to the NEA’s website, to $138.4 million in 2013 following the most recent round of cuts due to the government-wide “sequestration” policy that aimed to reduce the federal deficit. . . . Adjusting for inflation, the NEA’s funding remains far below where it stood early in the Clinton administration. Severe cuts were enacted after Republicans gained a House majority in 1994 and made “culture wars” a cornerstone of the GOP’s campaign to brand Democrats in general and the NEA in particular as out of step with mainstream American values.
Well, Chu, despite being a Chinese-American woman whose father was an economics professor, is perhaps in touch with what passes for “mainstream American values” among Republicans—she was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and raised in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, in the heart of Mike Huckabee country. Huckabee, in fact, majored in religion at none other than Chu’s alma mater, Arkadelphia’s Ouachita Baptist University. Maybe Chu will soon be known as Aunt Sugar.
Addendum: On June 10, 2014, the Americans for the Arts Action Fund sent an email soliciting its members’ signatures on a letter to the Senate in an effort to light a fire under the do-nothing posterior of this august body.
Can you believe the National Endowment for the Arts has been without a Chairperson for 18 months? President Obama finally nominated Kansas City performing arts presenter Jane Chu to lead the federal arts agency this past February. Her nomination has since been quickly and unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Now, all that awaits us is getting the Senate to find the opportune time to bring this nomination to the Senate floor for a final vote. Will you help by sending a letter to your Senator urging them to bring Jane Chu’s nomination as NEA Chair to the Senate floor by the end of June?
The Senatorial letter notes that the Senate HELP Committee unanimously voted on May 14 to advance her nomination to the full U.S. Senate, a full three months after the appointment was announced. Now Americans for the Arts is looking for a vote before the July 4 recess. Good luck with that. As Chaucer once noted, “The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.”
In point of fact, however, Chu’s nomination was confirmed within 48 hours of the Action Fund email, on June 12. According to McClatchyDC, “The nomination has been non-controversial and Chu was confirmed by the Senate today by voice vote with only a few members in the chamber.” And so it was too for the earlier HELP Committee vote. According to The National Memo, “The National Endowment for the Arts is so non-controversial these days that the Senate committee that oversees the federal agency approved its new chairman Wednesday on a voice vote with almost no discussion as senators raced off to other meetings.” The article goes on to note that Chu “has drawn strong support among Senate Republicans”—she must be as non-controversial as the NEA, which is not really surprising, but, interestingly, she’s taking a very non-Republican pay cut for this job. “The annual salary for the NEA chairman is $167,000, according to the agency’s office of public affairs. Chu’s salary from the Kauffman Center is $225,703, according to an IRS filing for the nonprofit.”