Obama reaches to Kansas City for arts chief

McClatchy Washington BureauFebruary 13, 2014 

President Obama plans to nominate Jane Chu -- president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri -- as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

"Jane’s lifelong passion for the arts and her background in philanthropy have made her a powerful advocate for artists and arts education in Kansas City," Obama said in a statement. "She knows firsthand how art can open minds, transform lives and revitalize communities, and believes deeply in the importance of the arts to our national culture."

Chu has held her current post since 2006. She was a fund executive at the Kauffman Fund for Kansas City from 2004 to 2006, and vice president of external relations for Union Station Kansas City from 2002 to 2004.

Joan Shigekawa, the NEA's senior deputy chairman, has served as acting director since NEA chair and Broadway theatre producer Rocco Landesman left the post at the end of 2012, saying his intent had been to serve one term. The post -- subject to Senate confirmation -- is often a lightening rod, particularly during lean budget times.

Republican presidental nominee Mitt Romney included the agency, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as areas he'd place on the chopping block to reduce federal spending.

Arts groups welcomed the nomination for the agency which has been a favorite target of conservative groups for at times controversial grants.

"I am pleased that President Obama has put forward a strong nominee for chair of the National Endowment for the Arts," said Robert L. Lynch, president and chief executive officer of Americans for the Arts, a non-profit arts advocacy group. "Dr. Jane Chu brings the valuable perspectives of multi arts understanding, top management skills, and deep philanthropic knowledge to the position. She is trained as an artist but has also worked successfully as manager of complex business enterprises."

And Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-NY, the co-chair of the bipartisan House Arts Caucus, praised the selection.

“The NEA has waited over a year for a new chair, and I’m glad that the president has nominated a well-qualified and dynamic woman to fill the post,” Slaughter said, adding that the arts industry "generates $166.2 billion in economic activity, provides 5.7 million full-time jobs, and most importantly, advances American culture in immeasurable ways."

Chu, a pianist, previously was vice president of community investment for the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation from 1997 to 2002.

Chu is a trustee at William Jewell College and serves on the board of directors of the Ewing Marion Kauffman School and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

Kansas City’s Nonprofit Connect recently announced her as its nonprofit professional of the year. She received an A.A. in visual arts from Nebraska Wesleyan University, a B.M. in piano performance and a B.M.Ed. in music education from Ouachita Baptist University, an M.A. in piano pedagogy from Southern Methodist University, an M.B.A. from Rockhurst University, and a Ph.D. in philanthropic studies from Indiana University.

- Maria Recio contributed to this report.

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