John Frohnmayer (1989-92)

Portrait of white man with short dark hair wearing a suit and bowtie.

John Frohnmayer. Photo by Michael Geissinger

John Frohnmayer was the fifth chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, appointed by President George H. W. Bush in 1989. Prior to the NEA, Frohnmayer was a successful lawyer—specializing in the First Amendment, an art collector, and chairman of the Oregon State Arts Commission. He had studied for the ministry before choosing law as a profession.

The NEA was in the midst of controversies surrounding its funding of various projects when he took office, notably surrounding a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit, which would lead to Congressional action and a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1998, National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley. Frohnmayer's focus on art education was largely overshadowed by the contentious partisan politics surrounding the agency. Among the programs started under his leadership was the Rural Arts Initiative, which helped rural arts organizations to develop artistically and administratively.

Back to the What Is the NEA page