Art Works Blog

It's Been an Interesting Week

October 30, 2009
Washington, DC

I thought it might help further the conversation to reply to some of these replies to my speech at Grantmakers in the Arts. I'm not going to argue with those who think the NEA shouldn't exist, but would like - in the spirit of provocative give and take - to engage a couple of the topics.

First, my comments about the President as author and the references to Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln, et al. I'm vulnerable here and probably just wrong. Barack Obama wrote, on his own, the manuscript for his first book and went looking for a publisher. Other presidential works have very different provenances. One important one, it is generally accepted, was written by a ghostwriter without credit. Others were written with heavy staff input in the way of researchers and editors. That being said, to state that these other presidents did not write their own books is unprovable and in several cases, probably incorrect. And for what it's worth, yes, Grant wrote a great book, and Lincoln, an excellent writer, never wrote a whole book per se, his writings were rather collected in one. Score one for the prosecution.


NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman and National Council on the Arts member Lee Greenwood. Photo by Kathy Plowitz-Worden


As for Julius Caesar? I made a deliberately outlandish remark, with the delicious (for me, anyway) twist that the last thing people think of with Julius Caesar is that he was a writer. I enjoyed the conceit and never imagined that it would be taken literally. If I have to edit every remark I make because someone somewhere might misunderstand, I'm going to become very dull very fast.

But I don't want to be a Chairman who just responds to things. We have also been getting some things done. Over the past three days, we had the first meeting of our National Council on the Arts since I became Chairman. And one of the people with whom I spent a nice amount of time was Council member Lee Greenwood. We didn't just talk about country music?we also talked about my "art works" tour. Lee has lived in Nashville since 1979, and I am hoping to get there the first week in December.

Lee and I also talked about Paducah, Kentucky, another city I am going to visit. People have been telling me about Paducah's artist program, but Lee told me about some great artists who come out of Paducah - Jerry Crutchfield, Lee's longtime producer; Jerry's brother Jan, who is the songwriter responsible for three of Lee's early hits; Eric Horner, who used to be Lee's guitarist, but who is now a touring gospel performer; and Doug Carter, Lee's current keyboardist, bandleader, arranger, and all around good guy. Impressive.

But before Nashville or Paducah, I will be visiting Peoria - on November 6, in fact. And if you are interested, you can log on to our website and see several of the day's events broadcast live.

I do enjoy this back and forth and look forward to quite a bit of it over the next four years, provided it stays friendly and in the spirit of mutual respect. Keep letting me know how art works where you live.


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