Frank Hodsoll was nominated to chair the National Endowment for the Arts by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Under his leadership, the National Medal of Arts, American Jazz Masters Fellowships (later called NEA Jazz Masters Fellowships), National Heritage Fellowships, and the Mayors’ Institute on City Design were created. He established a new school-based arts education program and began the process that led to national standards. NEA leadership grants during this period included start-up support for the Sundance Institute and the American Masters series on public television.
An unlikely choice for the post, Hodsoll had no working background in the arts. A lawyer, he had spent 14 years in the Foreign Service and had worked on Reagan’s 1980 election campaign. He was deputy to the White House chief of staff, James A. Baker III, when he asked to be put in charge of the Arts Endowment.