Rocco Landesman extends NEA support to military families

By A. James Memmott

May 25, 2010 at 7:06am

Rocco Landesman, the outspoken and successful Broadway producer, is opening some doors for the military as head of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Landesman announced Monday that the endowment and Blue Star Families, a group that supports military families, have teamed up in a program that offers free museum admission to military personnel and their families this summer.

More than 600 museums nationwide, including such powerhouses as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Art Institute of Chicago, are taking part.

Several children’s museums and sciences centers are also participating. The program, called Blue Star Museums, runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Rocco Landesman
Rocco Landesman

“Military families have limited time together. But if the choice is sitting at home or going to a museum, one factor will not be the cost. It will be on the list of fine things that a family can do,” Landesman told the Washington Post.

The Post reported that Joan Shigekawa, senior deputy chairman at the NEA and Kathy Roth-Douquet, chairman of Blue Star Families, came up with the idea for the effort.

Shigekawa was one of Landesman’s first hires at the agency. Previously, she had been associate director for arts and humanities at the Rockefeller Foundation.

Though he had been a fund-raiser for Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, Landesman was seen as a surprise pick to head the NEA, an agency that supports artistic efforts through grants.

A Ph.D. from the Yale School of Drama, Landesman was used to winning big, his theater company putting on “The Producers” and other mega hits.

“Mr. Landesman is not exactly the Washington type,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times wrote last month.

“He is a fast-moving, risk-taking entrepreneur who is colorful (his passions include horse racing, gambling, baseball and alligator cowboy boots) and blunt. Now Mr. Broadway is busy transforming himself into Mr. Bureaucracy.”

As Mr. Bureaucracy, Landesman has had to plead for funding from Congress.

The Republican suspicion of the NEA fueled by past controversial projects may have waned somewhat, but money is tight, perhaps especially for the arts.

Still, the Blue Star Museums project would seem to be a winner for military families, the museums and the NEA.

“The NEA has done something right,” headlined a column item on the program in the New York Post, a newspaper critical of the agency in the past.

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