Feb. 13--As president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Jane Chu oversaw the construction and opening of a $400 million project that has helped to revitalize downtown Kansas City.
Quietly efficient and guardedly passionate, Chu managed to balance the needs and desires of a high-powered board, three ambitious and demanding resident arts organizations, disparate civic and government interests involved in the center, which opened less than three years ago, and widely engaged and often unforgiving audiences.
Now that President Barack Obama has announced that he intends to nominate Chu to head the National Endowment for the Arts, all those experiences and challenges should serve her well in the job.
The NEA has been without a chairman since Rocco Landesman, a former Broadway producer, stepped down at the end of 2012. Landesman made fruitful contact with the Kansas City arts community, including Chu, in 2010.
Another key conduit between Kansas City and the Washington bureaucracy is Joan Israelite, former president of the Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City who helps the Kauffman Center raise money and also serves on the National Council for the Arts, an NEA advisory board.
Chu is a pianist, perhaps evidence of the kind of personal discipline that she brings to her work. Given that the NEA finds itself at the center of culture-wars controversies, Chu generally seems publically unflappable.
Given the snarky mood in Congress of late, it's too soon to tell how smooth the confirmation process will be. The agency's budget, which funds programs and arts efforts across all disciplines and across the nation, has been on a downward trend, currently in the range of $140 million.
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