Mary Anne Carter will step up as chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, the federal agency that President Donald Trump once wanted to axe. A former policy advisor to Governor Rick Scott of Florida, Carter has been unofficially in charge of the arts funding agency, first as the senior deputy chairman and then as acting chairman, since joining the NEA during the transition process after the 2016 election.
“I am honored and humbled to be nominated for this position,” said Carter in a statement. Her appointment was announced by the New York Times. Although she has minimal experience in the arts, Carter founded a consultancy firm and has earned a reputation as an effective behind-the-scenes dealmaker who has eschewed the more public advocacy of her predecessors.
Once confirmed by the Senate, Carter will be only the 12th person to head the agency, which provides federal grant money to arts organizations in all 50 states. The post was previously held by Jane Chu, who was appointed by President Obama and resigned effective June 4 after four years in the role. (Following Trump’s election, a quickly debunked rumor pegged actor Sylvester Stallone, also an avid painter, as a likely candidate for the role.)
The NEA is a particularly vital resource for institutions in smaller, underserved communities that don’t necessarily attract the attention of wealthy philanthropists. But some conservatives see the agency, and its counterpart the National Endowment of the Humanities, as an example of frivolous government spending on programming that serves only a small fraction of the population. Last year, Tucker Carlson of FOX News called the NEA “welfare for rich, liberal elites.”
Trump’s agenda has included plans to eliminate the NEA and NEH since 2017, but the agencies enjoy widespread support from the cultural sector, and even from a number of Republicans. (According to Americans for the Arts, the NEA’s budget makes up just 0.0004 percent of total federal spending, and even shutting down the agency would involve significant cost.)
In August, contrary to Trump’s desire to defund the agencies and despite an earlier Republican proposal to slash NEA funding, Congress passed a 2019 budget earmarking a combined $155 million to the NEA and NEH—$2.2 million more than the 2018 budget. This followed a $2 million increase in the 2017 budget, although neither increase kept up with inflation.
A White House statement noted that Carter’s “commitment to the arts stems from the challenges faced by her child with dyslexia. Finding schools that employ the arts as a teaching method makes the learning process both productive and enjoyable for her daughter.”
Though some have criticized her as an unqualified “dance mom,” Carter told Hyperallergic that “I want to ensure that all Americans not only have access to the arts but access to this agency.” Her priorities include expanding the NEA’s work with the military through programs such as Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network.