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Leader of National Endowment for the Arts to Step Down

Rocco Landesman, a former Broadway theater producer, announced yesterday that he will step down as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts at the end of this year.

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The NEA's senior deputy chairman, John Shigekawa, will serve as the acting head of the federal agency until a permanent successor is confirmed.

"My intention has always been to serve one term, and we have been able to accomplish more than I had ever thought possible," he said in a statement.

Landesman, nominated by President Barack Obama, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in August of 2009 as the tenth leader of the independent federal agency, which has a budget of $146 million for the current fiscal year (down about $9 million from the year before).

The NEA provides lots of small grants to support arts education around the nation. In April, I blogged about a recent round of grants, including $75,000 to the Metropolitan Opera Guild to support opera-based teaching and learning in New York City public schools, $20,000 to the Country Music Foundation for a program to help students write music, and $33,000 to the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. to help secondary students learn about performance and theater.

That same month, the agency issued a report that examined the academic benefits that arts engagement offers for at-risk youths.

Americans for the Arts, a Washington-based advocacy group, issued a statement praising Landesman's leadership at the NEA, citing his work in creating new programs, partnering with other federal agencies, and giving powerful voice to the importance of the arts in American life.

"Most importantly, he used his bully pulpit to educate both Washington and the American people on the value of the arts, specifically noting that the arts are, of course, intrinsically valuable, but also a strong source of jobs and economic stimulus," the statement said. "In fact, his slogan, 'Art Works,' was intended to persuade Americans, including members of Congress, that investment in art can build stronger communities and revive a flagging economy."

Sandra Ruppert, the director of the Arts Education Partnership, said Landesman played an important role in setting the NEA on a path to greater influence in the arts education domain.

"Under his leadership, the NEA is now in the process of implementing a more visible and robust agenda for arts education, from supporting research and assessments that demonstrate the outcomes of arts learning for students to supporting promising practices for the field," she wrote in an email. "Much of this work is still in the nascent stages but it points to the NEA playing a key leadership role at the federal level for the future. I am confident that the pieces are in place for this work to continue at NEA after his departure."

You can find a short biography for Landesman here.

Landesman ended his statement on a playful note: "The time has come for me to become a cliche: I turned 65, am going to retire, and cannot wait to spend more time in Miami Beach."

Photo: Rocco Landesman speaks at the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Awards Ceremony and Concert in New York in 2011. Charles Sykes/AP.

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