President Jimmy Carter nominated Livingston Biddle as the third chair of the NEA in 1977. Biddle came from a distinguished American family, graduated from Princeton University, and served as an ambulance driver in World War II. He wrote popular novels before coming to Washington, DC, to be a special assistant to Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI), his roommate in preparatory school and at Princeton, who was a key figure in drafting the legislation that established the Arts and Humanities Endowments. Biddle also had served as NEA deputy chairman under Roger Stevens, and later served as Nancy Hanks’s Congressional liaison. He also was chairman of the Pennsylvania Ballet Company from 1971-92.
Chair Biddle approached his position with a desire to refocus on the role which Congress initially envisioned for the Arts Endowment. An integral part of that role, Biddle claimed, was a strong partnership between the government and the private community. The folk arts, opera and musical theater, and multidisciplinary/presenting fields all saw expansion in funding from the NEA under Biddle, and he increased outreach to underserved communities to provide more access to the arts.