NEA Director Speaks at LACMA

Fri, 02/24/2012 (All day)

Malissa Shriver and Rocco LandesmanNational Endowment for the Arts Director Rocco Landesman spoke with Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Michael Govan on Thursday, February 23rd as a part of LACMA's Director's Series.  Landesman and Govan covered topics from arts education to the NEA's Our Town initiative during the hourlong conversation, which was attended by approximately 100 community members.

Landesman spoke about the challenges with the United States' system of arts funding, noting that England contributes $900 million to arts & culture while America contributes roughly $150 million.  "The problem with relying on private support was demonstrated in 2008, when individual giving went sharply downward and foundations lost 40% of their capital," Landesman said.  "This is not a sustained, reliable source.  We cannot leave our artistic heritage to the marketplace." 

In response to Govan's question about federal policymakers' attitude toward the National Endowment for the Arts, Landesman referred to the difference between the 2010/2011 House of Representative budget proposals and 2011/2012's proposals.  In both budget cycles, an amendment was brought to the House floor to eliminate the NEA.  In 2010/2011, it was defeated by House democrats and roughly 20 House republicans. 

The following year, the amendment was defeated again-- this time with 50 republican votes.  "The message of arts as an economic driver and a measure of community prosperity is being heard by all policymakers, loud and clear," said Landesman.

Govan and Landesman spoke at length about the Our Town initiative, specifically the two Los Angeles County projects funded through the initiative, Project Willowbrook and the Watts Towers project.  Govan noted that there are "no better real estate developers than artists," referring to the power of creative placemaking to enhance public safety and local quality of life.  Landesman added, "People engage the arts without realizing it all the time, just by walking down the street.  The quality of your daily life can be greatly improved by an aesthetic dimension."

The two leaders discussed the "culture wars" of the late 1980s, specifically the controversy over the NEA-funded Corcoran Museum's cancellation of a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition in response to political pressure (LACMA now co-owns the Mapplethorpe collection).  Landesman asserted that the "days of the defensive NEA are over," praising the dual role of creativity as both community affirmation/validation, and a challenge to accepted values.  Govan agreed, referring to the role of museums as providing a "safe place for consideration and critical discourse."

The conversation ended with a brief discussion of the importance of arts education's inclusion in core curriculum.  Recent events in LAUSD were not mentioned, but Govan mentioned LACMA's commitment to increasing access to arts education for students within Los Angeles County.

Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, Chair of the California Arts Council, presented Landesman with a personalized California Arts Plate as a souvenir of his visit to the Golden State (see photo above).  The CAC is 'occupying' the NEA's Facebook page this week after reaching 10,000 Facebook fans before any other state arts council. 

Rocco Landesman and Michael Govan

Top photo: Malissa Feruzzi Shriver and Rocco Landesman.  Photo credit Sean Watson.

Bottom photo: Landesman and Govan discuss the Watts Towers Our Town project.  Photo by Arts for LA.