Broadway Producer Tapped For NEA

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Broadway producer Rocco Landesman has been nominated to head the National Endowment for the Arts. Landesman's Jujamcyn company owns five Broadway theaters and his production credits include Angels in America and The Producers.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama has appointed Broadway producer Rocco Landesman to be chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Rocco Landesman has been called a high roller and a creative risk-taker. For more than 20 years, he's been executive director of Jujamcyn, which owns and operates a group of Broadway theaters. He bought the company five years ago.

Landesman produced "Angels in America," a play that dealt with the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. He was also one of the producers behind the wildly successful Broadway production of Mel Brooks' "The Producers." Bill Ivey was the NEA chair under Bill Clinton.

Mr. BILL IVEY (Former Chair, National Endowment for the Arts): He's a lively character, fully engaged in the for-profit arts sector, but somebody who is also an educator, a writer and I think just a very interesting, very positive choice.

BLAIR: Landesman is also a country music fan. The first Broadway musical he produced was called "Big River," with words and music by Roger Miller.

(Soundbite of musical "Big River")

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) Look out for me, oh muddy water. Your mysteries are deep and wide...

BLAIR: Rocco Landesman has a reputation for being an aggressive but passionate arts leader and something of a gambler. He's been known to bet thousands at the race track. Bob Lynch, president of the advocacy group Americans for the Arts, thinks that's a good combination for a very big job.

Mr. ROBERT LYNCH (President, Americans for the Arts): The NEA needs someone who understands the broad spectrum of the arts in America, who understands the power of the job in leveraging more money for the arts.

BLAIR: The NEA budget is now $145 million. President Obama has asked Congress for an increase for next year, but the arts endowment will still be smaller than it was before the so-called culture wars of the 1990s, when some conservatives wanted to eliminate the agency altogether.

Robert Viagas of Playbill has written 12 books about theater. He says Landesman is used to challenges.

Mr. ROBERT VIAGAS (Playbill): He's worked with the Broadway unions, you know, year in and year out. He works with the other producers. He's a member of the Broadway League. Essentially, it's an organization of competitors, and so I'm sure that anything they have in Washington holds no terror for him.

BLAIR: If approved by Congress, Rocco Landesman will take over the National Endowment for the Arts from Dana Gioia. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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