- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

Before Bill Ivey took over the National Endowment for the Arts, there was Jane Alexander, whose four years chairing the NEA during the Clinton administration are described in her new book as "bittersweet."
All great nations should support their artists, she writes in "Command Performance," but, "As long as men with little minds are elected to the highest offices in the land, they will continue to dictate what men and women should do or say or see."
Since she left the arts agency in 1997, Miss Alexander has returned to acting, moved back to New York and given several interviews about her years in Washington.
"It did make me quite cynical," she told the Sacramento Bee in May. "Because I'm at heart pretty idealistic about what human beings can give to one another and to society. I expected a lot more of our nation's leaders."
Even President Clinton didn't deliver the promised support, she told the Seattle Times in June.
"He's extremely bright," she said, "but he's also a consummate politician. He's concerned with expediency, with what will win the day. Inevitably there's a tension between politics and art because artists don't look for compromise. If they do, there's never greatness."
Ever since Miss Alexander left the agency, she has dished out criticism about her time there. When her show, "Honour," opened on Broadway in the spring of 1998, she told the Associated Press her reputation as an actress carried little weight with politicians.
"Not one of them ever referred to anything I had ever done because they had never seen any of my work," she said. "This is what I would usually get: A leading senator, who shall remain nameless, once said to me, 'I hear you did some acting before.'"
Miss Alexander has starred in dozens of movies, including a film version of "The Great White Hope," as well as "Kramer vs. Kramer," "All the President's Men," "Testament" and, more recently, "The Cider House Rules."
Despite her start in the District — where she became well known in the 1960s when she and James Earl Jones starred in "The Great White Hope" at the Arena Stage — the nation's capital proved anything but a good fit. Nominated to chairmanship of the NEA in 1993, she collided head-on with the corps of conservative members of Congress elected in 1994.
By 1995, members of Congress were dismayed enough by some NEA grants deemed to be obscene or sacrilegious to mandate a 40 percent cut in NEA funds. This trimmed the arts agency's work force by 45 percent, and arts grants plummeted.
In the summer of 1997, the House voted to defund the NEA. The Senate saved the agency, but at the reduced budget rate of $98 million.
Miss Alexander had her own disappointments. Working for the government — where, she told reporters, she disliked having to fly coach during her far-flung travels about the country — proved to be a confining experience for her. Various Republicans, ranging from Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina to Reps. Newt Gingrich of Georgia and Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, both of Texas, likewise aggravated her, she writes.
To the end of her book, she remains defiant, insisting that government funding and free artistic expression are not mutually exclusive.
"A mature democratic society accepts the full range of artistic endeavor," she writes, "even when it is outrageous."


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