Chairman's Corner: October 1, 2020

Jo Reed: I'm Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with The Chairman's Corner, a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment. This is where we'll discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more.

This week, on September 29th, we celebrated the 55th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts. Back in 1965, on September 29th, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act, and that created the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. And Mary Anne, why don't you tell us a little bit about the act? Because it's important for us to know and think about.

Mary Anne Carter: Yes, Jo, and thank you. And, you know, it is as relevant now as it was 55 years ago. At the beginning of the act's text is a declaration of findings and purposes. And it lays out 12 reasons for this legislation, and what it means for the nation. The findings and purposes are powerful statements that place the arts and humanities at the heart of our society, essential to an advanced civilization and the wellbeing of the American people. And Jo, I just want to read 2 of those 12. Number four read, "democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds, and wherever located, masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants."

I just love that, I think that's so powerful, and we always talk about access to the arts, and that being the main mission of this agency. And then, I'll just briefly-- want to mention number ten, also. "It is vital to a democracy to honor and preserve its multicultural, artistic heritage, as well as support new ideas, and therefore, it is essential to provide financial assistance to its artists and the organizations that support their work." Stirring words indeed, and one that the National Endowments for the Arts work to fulfill, every single day.

Jo Reed: When we celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2015, the office of public affairs developed a timeline that gave one example of an outstanding project or accomplishment for each year, going back to 1965. And I'm wondering what you would add to that timeline now.

Mary Anne Carter: I would add to that timeline by focusing on two agency accomplishments in the last five years, although we've had a significant number of accomplishments. But I would just add one from 2016 and one from 2017. In 2016, the National Endowment for the Arts received a special Tony Award for its unwavering commitment in paving the road between Broadway and cities throughout the US. Jo, as you know, the Tony Awards recognize excellence in live, Broadway theater, and are presented by the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League every year. At the time of the agency's recognition, Charlotte St. Martin, President of the Broadway League, said, "Over the past 50 years, since its inception, the agency has funded 18 Tony Award-winning plays and 15 Tony Award-winning musicals, not to mention offering vital support to hundreds of theater professionals. They are invaluable to our industry and to our nation's cultural legacy." And the plays and musicals that Charlotte mentions were supported by the arts endowment as new productions that incubated in our nation's regional, nonprofit theaters. And having garnered success there, those productions transferred to Broadway, extending the life and the commercial success of new work, and connecting those works with bigger audiences.

Jo Reed: Well, give us a couple of examples of some of the plays we helped birth.

Mary Anne Carter: Sure. A couple examples from 2008 to 2018 include "The Humans," which won the Tony Award in 2016 for Best Play and was presented by Roundabout Theatre Company. "August Os-- I'm not doing this one.

Jo Reed: Okay, leave it. I think it's Osage County.

Mary Anne Carter: Osage. Is it August--

Jo Reed: But I would not bet my dog's-- it's August.

Mary Anne Carter: Or August?

Jo Reed: No, it's August.

Mary Anne Carter: Okay, okay. I'll do that. "August Osage County," which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2008 and presented by Steppenwolf Theatre. "The Band's Visit," that won ten Tony awards in 2018 including Best Musical, and that was presented earlier by the Atlantic Theatre Company. And last but by no means least, "Hamilton," that won eleven Tony Awards and the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and presented earlier at the Vassar Reading Festival.

Jo Reed: That's a really impressive list. What's the other accomplishment that you wanted to mention, Mary Anne?

Mary Anne Carter: One that doesn't get a lot of attention but is hugely important. In 2017, the disaster relief provided by the agency after Hurricane's Harvey, Irma, and Maria in regions designated as major disaster areas by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. You know, the arts endowment has-- had provided funds and other support for disasters before and since 2017, but in that year, three hurricanes laid waste to parts of Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and the US Virgin Islands. And the arts endowment worked very closely with the state arts agencies in those states and territories. Let me start that one again. The arts endowment--

Jo Reed: Okay.

Mary Anne Carter: The arts endowment worked very closely with the state art agencies in those states and territories to assess conditions on the ground and get funds to arts organizations in need. Those funds eventually totaled more than $866,000.

Jo Reed: But that work in those regions didn't stop in 2017.

Mary Anne Carter: That's right. Disaster relief is a long-term challenge. The work went beyond 2017. The work continues today. Two arts endowment staff, Brian Lusher and Andi Mathis, working with other US agencies, have provided technical support to preservation specialists and arts agencies in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. And during Brian's deployment to Puerto Rico, he aided the recovery of historic properties and districts. And during Andi's deployment to the Virgin Islands, she met with local artists and arts administrators about using the arts to help people who were traumatized by the storm's destruction. And both Andi and Brian have since returned to the Islands to carry on this vital work, and they'll continue to. And, you know, I'm just so proud of the arts endowment ongoing efforts in disaster relief. And as I said, it's not one of the issues that draws a lot of attention, but it is so vitally important.

Jo Reed: Indeed it is. Well, Mary Anne, I think that's a good place to leave it. Thank you.

Mary Anne Carter: Thank you, Jo.

Jo Reed: Thank you.

That was Mary Anne Carter Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Keep up with the arts endowment by following us on twitter @neaarts.

For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.

Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.


This week, we celebrate the 55th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts.