What Should We Expect From A Biden NEA?

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced a quartet of appointments from the new Biden administration but still no word on a chair to replace Trump administration appointee Mary Anne Carter.

While there’s no shortage of scuttlebutt over who will get tapped to be the new chair, the pandemic casts the agency in an entirely new light.

Simply put, does the country need a traditional NEA run by dedicated professionals or do we need to begin pushing for substantive change capable of lifting the agency out of its status as a federal budget after thought?

We touched on this notion a bit at the beginning of the month but perhaps a better frame of reference is an excellent article by Zachary Woolfe in the 1/13/2021 edition of the New York Times where he compares two singers, one in the US, the other in Germany. Spoiler, the one living in Germany is have a much better time navigating the financial stresses triggered by the pandemic.

While it’s understandable that this may not seem like the opportune time to begin pushing the American nonprofit cultural sector toward a model that integrates the sort of safety net from the European model, I can’t imagine anything better.

What are your thoughts? What do you want out of a new NEA? Is a return to normal enough or should we expect more?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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