Opting for arts-administration and fundraising credentials over star power, the White House announced Wednesday that President Obama will nominate Jane Chu, president and chief executive of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Mo., as the next chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Chu has led the Kauffman Center since 2006, when it was being planned. She oversaw a $414-million campaign to build the center, which opened in September 2011.
Chu, who has spent most of her life in the Midwest and Texas, has had a much lower national profile than most nominees for the NEA chairmanship over the past 20 years. Obama's first appointee, Rocco Landesman, headed Jujamcyn Theaters, a leading producer and landlord for Broadway shows, before Obama tapped him in 2009.
Landesman turned 65 in 2012 and retired at the end of the year; the NEA's senior deputy director, Joan Shigekawa, has been acting NEA chairman since then.
"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 written announcement. "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 declined to be interviewed. A spokesman said she intends to make no public statements until the confirmation process is done. The Kauffman Center's board chair, Julia Irene Kauffman, issued a statement saying she was "thrilled" with Obama's choice, adding "although we will miss her… I believe the president has chosen wisely."
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who co-chairs the House's Bipartisan Arts Caucus, issued a statement Thursday praising Chu as "a well-qualified and dynamic woman."
Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, a leading national advocacy group that pushes for better NEA funding, praised Chu as "a strong nominee" who brings "a valuable mix" of skills that are "important to our nation's key public sector arts position."
Chu's appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
Dana Gioia, professor of poetry and public culture at USC, served as NEA chairman from 2003 to '09. He said he has met Chu but hasn't worked with her extensively.
"I think the new chair will have the challenge of rebuilding a bipartisan majority in Congress to support the NEA, but this is an achievable goal," Gioia said. "She seems to have the qualifications of someone who can accomplish just that."
Under Obama, the NEA's budget appropriation has fallen each year since 2010, when the Democratic Party lost its majority in the House of Representatives, which controls the budget reins. Funding fell from a recent peak of $167.5 million in 2010, according to the NEA's website, to $138.4 million in 2013 after the most recent round of cuts because of the government-wide "sequestration" policy.
Times staff writer David Ng contributed to this report.