I noted that as president of Broadway's Jujamcyn Theatres, he comes from a commercial background. But Landesman, 62, has a doctorate in dramatic literature from Yale, so he's certainly been interested in the arts from an intellectual standpoint, not just as a profit center.
Well, on Friday Landesman was confirmed by the Senate and he touched all the right bases in his statement:
"Art is essential to the civic, economic and cultural vitality of our nation. It reflects who we are and what we stand for - freedom of expression, imagination and vision. I am eager to work with our many partners to bring quality arts programs to neighborhoods and communities across the country."
Ok so far, so good.
Then I read this article in The New York Times, Landesman's maiden interview as chairman of the NEA. I liked most of what he said but this comment made me cringe:
"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 [in Chicago]. There's 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."
Rocco, was it wise in your very first interview to pick a fight with Peoria? Which, as a native Midwesterner yourself, you must know is in Illinois, home state of the president who nominated you to head the NEA.
I don't know whether there's a theater there or not. And if there is, maybe it's not as good as Steppenwolf or the Goodman. But that's not the point. The point is introducing more people to the arts. And not everyone can get to Chicago or New York.
The point is, good theatre, music, dance and other art is being made all over this country in communities large and small. As NEA chairman, you should be celebrating that fact and building it up, not tearing it down with a snarky comment.