NEW YORK (AP) — The country's top arts official is going on the road.
Rocco Landesman, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, announced Wednesday that he will spend six months visiting towns and cities nationwide, starting Nov. 6. He called it the "Art Works" tour, a triple entendre referring to works of art, the effectiveness of art and that art is a worthy form of employment.
The first stop: Peoria, Ill., which the Broadway producer said over the summer had an inferior theater community to that of Chicago.
"I haven't backed off anything I said," Landesman said Wednesday. "But the people of Peoria have been nice to us and it's turned into an enjoyable friendship."
In Peoria, Landesman will watch a performance of "Rent" at the Eastlight Theatre and visit the Warehouse District as a site for possible arts development. His tour will also include time in St. Louis; Memphis, Tenn.; and communities in California, Idaho and Kentucky.
"We're going to hopefully bring a spotlight and bring work to cities and town across the country," he said. "Art and artists have been used as part of economic revitalization. We want to look at examples, highlight them and look into local partnerships with the political leadership and the private sector to see if there are ways arts can be used to enhance economic vitality."
Landesman was in New York to give a speech at the National Grantmakers in the Arts conference. In prepared remarks, he scorned allegations that the NEA had become a "propagandist for the Obama administration programs." NEA spokesman Yosi Sergant was reassigned in September after reportedly suggesting during a conference call that artists create pro-Obama works.
But in Landesman's speech, which he later said in a telephone interview did not vary from the released transcript, the NEA chair openly cheered on Obama and his presidency. He praised Obama as head of "the most arts-supportive administration since (Franklin) Roosevelt" and said that Obama's campaign, and presidency, have "always been about aspiration: the idea that our current reality, our circumstances, if you will, need not determine our future."
"We're part of the administration. Why shouldn't I be for a lot of the things we're talking about?" Landesman, appointed by Obama to a four-year term, said in the interview.
"I feel in sync with a lot of the themes that the administration is talking about. That doesn't mean I'm going to be advocating their particular programs, but it does mean I'm absolutely sympathetic to the general message and themes that are coming from the White House."
Landesman's political affinities are far clearer than those of his NEA predecessor, Dana Gioia, whose comments about the Bush administration were mostly limited to praise for first lady Laura Bush.
In his prepared remarks, Landesman cited Obama as the first president since Theodore Roosevelt to write his own books, an assertion that surprised Richard Nixon editor Michael Korda, who remembered the former president working in longhand on yellow legal pads, and Robert Gottlieb, the editor of former President Clinton's "My Life."
"I guess Rocco L. never noticed that we had a president named Bill Clinton, who, as it happens, wrote every word of his autobiography himself — and very well, too," Gottlieb said. "Believe me: I was there."