The Senate recently confirmed the new leadership at the National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts and they are interesting and unconventional choices.
Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach (above), a Republican who endorsed Barack Obama, is the former head of the House Banking Committee and a committed fan of the humanities. Leach helped organize the humanities caucus in the House and will be a politically savvy choice to run the NEH.
Rocco Landesman is a big-time Broadway producer and will head the NEA. Mel Brook’s The Producers is among his credits.
The two endowments, dating back to the administration of Lyndon Johnson, serve an incredibly important national role. The Idaho Humanities Council is the state-based affiliate of the NEH. The Idaho Commission on the Arts has a similar relationship to the NEA.
Among many wonderful benefits, the two national endowments provide grant funding for local arts programs, library reading programs, small museums and teacher institutes.
The endowments have survived an immense amount of political scrutiny since Newt Gingrich tried to eliminate federal funding back in the mid-1990’s. The extremely modest budgets for the two principle national cultural organizations that reach into every corner of the United States are still below where they were when Newt swung his meat ax nearly 15 years ago.
Leach and Landesman appear to have the prestige and smarts to keep rebuilding the endowments. America culture, art, history, literature, and our pleasure will all benefit.