Finally, word from those on the inside track has it that Obama has picked someone to head up the National Endowment for the Arts: Rocco Landesman.

Here’s the report from the Times in which Tony Kushner has a very memorable quote:

“It’s potentially the best news the arts community in the United States has had since the birth of Walt Whitman,” said the playwright Tony Kushner. “He’s an absolutely brilliant and brave and perfect choice for the job.”

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More about Our Man Rocco:

Choosing Mr. Landesman, 61, signals that Mr. Obama plans to shake things up at the endowment. While a major source of money for arts groups around the country, it has historically been something of a sleepy bureaucracy, still best known to some for the culture wars of the 1990s.

Since then, the agency has been trying to rebuild its image on Capitol Hill, along with its budget. The current allocation stands at $155 million, and though Mr. Obama has requested $161 million for 2010, that is still short of its high of $176 million in 1992.

Mr. Landesman, who would fill the post vacated by Dana Gioia, is expected to lobby hard for more arts money. But he is not famous for his skills as an administrator or diplomat. Rather, he is known for his energy, intellect and irreverent — and occasionally sharp-elbowed — candor.

In 2000, for example, he caused a stir by accusing nonprofit theaters of being too much like their commercial counterparts. And, as a producer of “The Producers,” Mr. Landesman created the controversial $480 premium ticket to combat scalpers.

“Rocco speaks his mind, which is probably one of the reasons he was chosen,” said Robert Brustein, the founding director of the Yale and American Repertory Theaters. “Rocco does not defer his opinions.”

As the president of Jujamcyn Theaters, which owns five Broadway houses, Mr. Landesman is accustomed to calling the shots, not working within a bureaucracy. Arts executives say this is a plus. “He is a great entrepreneur and producer and it indicates to me that the administration wants to have somebody in this position who will be much more than simply a distributor of funds,” said Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera. “The relationship between the government and the arts needs to be energized. It needs someone like Rocco…”

His directness may prove refreshing to official Washington, and his affinity for country music, horse racing and baseball may help grease the wheels in his conversations with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.

While Mr. Landesman has spent his career in the commercial theater, he earned a doctorate in dramatic literature at the Yale School of Drama and stayed on there for four years as an assistant professor. “It’s an odd choice,” said Mr. Brustein, who taught Mr. Landesman at Yale. “It’s certainly not one that I would ever have thought of because Rocco’s always been associated with the profit-making world and the N.E.A. is nonprofit.”

Though a creature of the for-profit theater, Mr. Landesman has put his force behind work that other producers might have considered too risky for Broadway, like Mr. Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Angels in America,” and the musical “Jelly’s Last Jam.”

“He’s really smart and he’s really savvy and will really fight if he believes in something,” said George C. Wolfe, who directed both productions.

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