- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Bill Ivey, outgoing chairman for the National Endowment for the Arts, says he is leaving his post eight months early "satisfied, not embittered" about his tenure in one of Washington's most challenging political hot seats.
Mr. Ivey, who turns 57 tomorrow, leaves at the end of this month. Before assuming his new post in January at Vanderbilt University in Nashville as a professor of American cultural policy, he plans to write book proposals from a vacation home on Michigan's Lake Superior.
One book topic will be "the failure of the nation to adequately address the preservation and dissemination of its intangible cultural heritage: films, TV programs, choreography, all of the things that are heritage that aren't buildings or monuments," he says. "I don't think we've done very well as a society. A lot has been lost."
The nation understands preserving the environment and historical buildings, he explains, but not "all of the great music, the great recordings, the great old songs, the great old television programs. For many years, it was routine for film studios to discard the original scores to soundtracks for movies
"We're a fairly young society, and because we were so diverse … until the 20th century, we didn't develop much of a sense of the unique attributes of American culture," he says. "Now we can identify it and maybe elevate it. A lot of our heritage is embodied in film, TV, sound recordings and in radio."
No successor to Mr. Ivey has yet been named by the Bush administration. An interim director, Robert Martin of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, will head the agency beginning in October.
During his sabbatical, Mr. Ivey also plans to produce a manual of "management advice" for people chosen to run federal agencies.
"I'll be leaving town satisfied," he says. "It's been a very positive and rewarding experience. I was able to bring a sense of the value of the NEA to public policy. I think Congress understands the NEA is a public policy asset."
The NEA has had a precarious existence in the past decade. Congress threatened to eliminate its budget in 1997. Mr. Ivey arrived in the spring of 1998, a low-key academic whose specialty was Southern folk ballads. He showed a talent for making his agency acceptable to House Republicans who had vowed to erase federal subsidies for the arts.
Having headed up the Country Music Foundation in Nashville for 27 years, his first task was to boost the NEA's drastically reduced $98 million budget and end a low-level war between his agency and Congress.
He began meeting one-on-one with 200 House and Senate members, even NEA's archenemies. One, he says, was House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who is "a great country music fan who can quote lyrics until the cows come home. He knows country music lyrics better than I do."
In response, Congress has slowly doled out budget increases; $7 million last year and $10 million for the coming fiscal year for "Challenge America," a popular program to boost the arts in small communities and among youth.
"During my tenure," Mr. Ivey says, "the critics and opponents of the NEA have not been as troubled by our work as they were at times in the past. That's evolved partly from my presence. The politics of anger around the NEA have softened."


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