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Rocco Landesman (Damon Winter/The New York Times)

Straight talk. That’s in shorter supply in the Obama administration than a lot of us had hoped. And by that I mean straight as in right at ya rather than around, over or not at all.

But newly-installed head of the National Endowment for the Arts Rocco Landesman is getting out of the gate quickly and speaking his mind. And a lot of what is on his mind is on my mind too. In his first interview after being confirmed (such a sober term) he came out with his candor on.

Here are a few examples of that truth speaking from Robin Pogrebin in the New York Times:

He was particularly angered, he said, by parts of the debate over whether to include $50 million for the agency in the federal stimulus bill, citing the comment by Mitt Romney…that arts money did not belong in the bill. That kind of thinking suggests that “artists don’t have kids to send to college,” Mr. Landesman said, “or food to put on the table, or medical bills to pay.”

In American politics generally, he added: “The arts are a little bit of a target. The subtext is that it is elitist, left wing, maybe even a little ‘gay’.”

[Just a small sidebar here to point out that our former Massachusetts governor is, once again, on the wrong side of the argument…]

On funding levels:

On the subject of the endowment’s budget, too, Mr. Landesman did not hold back. Though he would not put a dollar figure on his own fiscal goals, he called the current appropriation of $155 million “pathetic” and “embarrassing.” And he seemed to imply dissatisfaction with increases proposed by Congress and by the president, which both fall short of the agency’s 1992 budget of $176 million.

“We’re going to be looking for funding increases that are more than incremental,” he said.

The role of the arts in the political and policy powerbroking:

“I wouldn’t have come to the N.E.A. if it was just about padding around in the agency,” he said, and worrying about which nonprofits deserve more funds. “We need to have a seat at the big table with the grown-ups. Art should be part of the plans to come out of this recession.”

“If we’re going to have any traction at all,” he added, “there has to be a place for us in domestic policy.”

A new sense of mission:

The new chairman said he already has a new slogan for his agency: “Art Works.” It’s “something muscular that says, ‘We matter.’ ” The words are meant to highlight both art’s role as an economic driver and the fact that people who work in the arts are themselves a critical part of the economy.

“Someone who works in the arts is every bit as gainfully employed as someone who works in an auto plant or a steel mill,” Mr. Landesman said. “We’re going to make the point till people are tired of hearing it.”

As for the former agency slogan, “A Great Nation Deserves Great Art,” he said, “We might as well just apologize right off the bat.”

And regarding Obama:

But it’s an unusual moment in history, he said, and he wanted to be part of it. President Obama was “the first candidate in my memory who made arts part of the campaign,” Mr. Landesman said. “He had an arts policy committee and an arts policy statement and arts advisers.”

Cultural mavens like himself feel they “have one of their own” in the White House, he added. “It makes the arts community feel finally, for the first time in a long time, there might be some wind at their back.”

Love this guy. He’s my injection of hope.

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