- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2001

On the eve of announcing $53 million worth of grants given out to 832 arts groups, the National Endowment for the Arts posted a more surprising announcement: Chairman Bill Ivey is stepping down eight months early.

Mr. Ivey, who took over in May 1998, was expected to stay through the end of his term in May 2002. He will now resign as of Sept. 30 to make room for a Republican successor.

"My hope is that by announcing now that I will step down at the end of this fiscal year, the new administration will be able to move efficiently to choose new leadership for the Arts Endowment," he said in a statement.

Mr. Ivey´s sudden announcement caught the White House, congressional leaders and the arts world by surprise, said Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, a lobbying group in the District of Columbia.

"My experience with Bill is that he is a pretty actively engaged person," Mr. Lynch said. "He wants to be part of an active team. Since there had not been a lot of dialogue, he just decided he would step aside and allow enough time for getting a team player from the new administration on board."

Mr. Ivey, 56, who directed the Country Music Foundation in Nashville, Tenn., for 17 years until he was named National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) chairman, says he wishes to work on several book projects. He is credited with taking the agency, which was voted out of existence by the House of Representatives but retained by the Senate in 1997, out of a swan dive into oblivion. The NEA had had a history of giving out grants to art projects deemed by some to be obscene or sacrilegious.

Some members are still trying to zero it out.

"We've got a lot of people who don´t even remember some of the obscene things taxpayers´ dollars were used for at the time," Rep. Philip M. Crane, Illinois Republican, said recently. "The NEA has been much more guarded in subsequent years for fear of political reprisals."

Rep. Mark Souder, Indiana Republican, guesses that Mr. Ivey is leaving due to political pressure.

"Bill Ivey tried to work it out," Mr. Souder said, "but he realized President Bush wanted his own person. He certainly improved the agency as a whole, but I believe constituent groups continued to put pressure on him from the left."

He especially takes issue with three grants the NEA will announce today. One is for $25,000 to the Manhattan Theatre Club, which in 1998 sponsored the play "Corpus Christi" about a homosexual Jesus. The grant supports artists´ residencies. Another $20,000 will go to the Kitchen, a New York theater that has produced explicit acts by homosexual and feminist performers. The Kitchen and its parent company, Haleakala Inc., will use the grant for a summer institute.

And the Whitney Museum of American Art will receive $45,000 for a project for arts teachers. A year ago, the Whitney was criticized for sponsoring "Sanitation," an exhibit linking New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, to Nazism.

"They should not get grants because they defy the intent of the Endowment," Mr. Souder said. "We need a different director to make sure arts funding represents the bulk of people in America."

To mollify its critics, the NEA appointed an oversight committee of six members of Congress. The committee´s three House positions are vacant, but its Senate slots are occupied by Republicans Mike DeWine of Ohio and Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Democrat Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.

The NEA also brought in Mr. Ivey, a low-key personality not expected to ruffle political feathers. By the fall of 2000, he had coaxed a $7 million boost in NEA funding from $97.8 million to $104.8 million by promising the increase would go toward a Challenge America program for arts education in rural communities.

"Bill´s approach has been more of a bridge builder," Mr. Lynch said. "Back a few years ago, the question was kill it or keep it alive. He connected what the endowment does to community, which is where these members of Congress live."

"He´s actually done a pretty good job of managing the agency," says Selma Sierra, spokeswoman for Rep. Joe Skeen, New Mexico Republican and the new chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, which oversees the NEA´s budget.

"Mr. Ivey has done a good job of taking care of the concerns aired three years ago about the agency. He´s focused the activities of the NEA on the grass-roots level. He´s spreading the wealth," she said.

The Bush administration will likely bandy about names of potential appointees, possibly with the help of first lady Laura Bush, an arts patron.

"In our research on Bush and his track record, Laura in particular has been supportive of the arts," Mr. Lynch said. "Laura has been more articulate about valuing arts and arts education. She made positive arts statements as late as last week on the 'Larry King Show.´"

When Mr. Lynch´s group sponsored a national arts advocacy day on the Hill on March 20, "The feedback we got was highly positive from both parties," he said. "The Republican leadership supported the current efforts of the NEA and the work of Bill Ivey. They even talked modestly of growth opportunities."

Today the NEA released names of 832 grants totaling $53.9 million, which is 63 percent of the Endowment´s 2000-2001 grant funds. Local recipients included $10,000 to WAMU-FM, a radio station based at American University and $50,000 to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, to support professional jazz musicians as teachers and mentors for students in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., schools.

Gallaudet University received $10,000 for Deaf Way II, an international conference on arts education set for July 2002. The Levine School of Music got $25,000 for a project to teach music to young children.

Some of the larger grants included two $100,000 grants to National Public Radio, $75,000 to the Houston Grand Opera for its productions, including free outdoor performances of the Puccini opera "Turandot." The Cornerstone Theater Co. in Los Angeles got $42,000 for a "Festival of Faith," a series of plays, inter-faith dialogues and "faith-based theater projects."

The National Council for Traditional Arts in Silver Spring, got $95,000 for a series of "urban festivals," arts programs in national parks and tours to immigrant communities nationwide.

Also in Silver Spring, the Washington Chu Shan Chinese Opera Institute Inc. got $7,000 for a folk arts program in Taiwanese puppetry.

The Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York got $27,000 to conserve two 17th-century Barberini tapestries for public viewing. They are part of a 12-tapestry set illustrating the life of Christ.

The University of Memphis in Tennessee got $29,000 to support a touring exhibit on the effect of the Bible on contemporary Southern artists.

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