Arts endowment chief will depart in January

Times Staff Writer

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia -- also a Sonoma County poet and literary critic -- announced today that he will step down from his post as head of the federal arts agency in January.

Gioia, 57, plans to divide his time between writing and a position at the Aspen Institute as the institute’s first director of the Harman-Eisner Program in the Arts.

While Gioia’s current term would have continued through December 2010, the Bush appointee told The Times: “The reason I’m leaving is to be a poet. I’ve given up six years of my creative life for public service, and I’m not allowed to publish while I’m in office. I shall never have a more exciting job than the NEA, but a poet needs a little boredom.”


Gioia became the ninth chairman of the NEA in February 2003. Agency initiatives during his tenure include the Shakespeare in American Communities program and the Big Read, to restore reading as a center of American culture.

“I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish: a new consensus in Congress and really throughout D.C. about supporting the arts in America,” he said.

When Gioia isn’t at the Aspen Institute headquarters in Washington, D.C., he’ll be writing at his home in Sonoma County. “The poetic gift is a very delicate one, and if you abuse the Muse, she may leave you,” he said.

Of his new post with the Aspen Institute, Gioia said that the nonprofit leadership think tank “has done a world-class job in policy, economics and business and technology, but it’s never had the arts and culture as its primary focus.”