Nancy Hanks

White woman with medium-length black hair wearing turtleneck sweater under jacket.

Nancy Hanks. NEA file photo

Nancy Hanks was the second chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the first woman to lead the agency. She was appointed by President Richard M. Nixon and continued her service under President Gerald R. Ford. Hanks increased NEA’s funding from $8 million to $99 million over her eight-year tenure. She expanded programming and ensured that NEA support reached all 50 states and six jurisdictions as part of her “arts for all Americans” vision for the agency. In addition to subsidizing national tours of dance companies, orchestras, and opera and theater groups, the NEA under Hanks also supported a nationwide effort to rescue historically significant buildings from demolition, including the historic Old Post Office building in Washington, DC. In 1983, it was officially renamed the Nancy Hanks Center, in her honor and became the home of the NEA until 2014.

Before the NEA, Hanks served in the Eisenhower Administration as an assistant to Nelson Rockefeller at the newly created Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and as a White House assistant for special projects. She then moved to New York where she worked for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. In 1968, she became president of the Associated Councils of the Arts (later Americans for the Arts), which promoted the activities of the newly created arts councils in the country. Both positions gave her an important national perspective on arts funding and public policy.

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