Culture in America

Topic: Culture in America

Dana Gioia: I’m the Chairman of the official arts agency of the United States government. When I first came to the job five years ago, it was not an easy job. In fact the previous chairman – a wonderful man named Michael Hammond – died after seven days. I mean it was a job of enormous pressure. The agency was endangered. The staff was embattled, demoralized. And it was an enormous task that most people thought was insolvable. . I have indeed solved it. But what I tried to do was something very simple, which was to ignore all expert advice and to go back to what the agency was begun as during the “Great Society” program as a vision of what America might draw from the arts. And I tried to ignore all of the controversies that had really paralyzed the agency for the better part of . . . of two decades and focus it on something quite simple: to bring the best art possible to the broadest audience possible; to create large public partnerships where we could essentially enrich and, I hope, transform the lives of millions of Americans. We did this without adequate budget, without adequate staff, resources or skills. But we did it . . . And I think maybe I’m idealistic. Maybe I’m a pathetic, Jimmy Stewart type in believing this. We did it out of idealism, and I think that there’s not enough idealism in Washington right now. And lots of people came to our aid. The struggle in my professional life as Arts Endowment Chair is to take the programs we have and bring them to more people than we can afford. Which is to, in a sense, to create partnerships, to create resources, to break through barriers. And how do we bring arts into the military? How do we bring them into Native American communities, and to inner cities and to prisons when there aren’t the avenues to do that easily? And so . . . but it’s a joyful struggle, I think. I think that when you have something good that you’re bringing to people, you know, it fills you with a kind of pleasure.

Recorded on: 7/6/2007

Gioia hopes to bring the best art to the most people through her position as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

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