Some among the politically weary arts community have expressed dismay about last month’s news that Trump has filled the position as Acting Chair of National Endowment for the Arts, previously held by seasoned arts professional Jane Chu with Florida political consultant Mary Anne Carter.
Carter’s public financial disclosure report shows connections to Trump’s election campaign, including serving on his inaugural committee, and arranging “special events” for him in Florida during 2016. She has also worked for conservative Florida Governor Rick Scott.
While some have decried the decision, pointing out that Carter’s primary form of engagement with the arts is piloting the dance career of her young daughter, who attends a school for the arts and dances competitively, it makes a refreshing break from a pattern established by Trump’s early appointees, to choose department heads that appear actively opposed to the discipline their agency is intended to manage and protect — for example, installing Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, when her most significant achievement is the dismantling of Michigan’s public school system. Setting aside, for the moment, offensively sexist underpinnings in characterizing Carter, a successful political operative, as a “dance mom,” there is at least something to be said for the fact that she willingly engages her child in an art practice — unlike DeVos, for example, who has never sent her children to public school.
Hyperallergic reached out to Carter, to inquire about her aims in this new role, and received a prompt response, including the following statement via email:
Access to the arts for all Americans is a core principle of the National Endowment for the Arts. To that end, as senior deputy chairman and now acting chairman, I want to ensure that all Americans not only have access to the arts but access to this agency.
As part of our efforts to bring the NEA’s work to the American people, we have hosted several public meetings of the National Council on the Arts at locations outside our office. Most recently, we took the meeting to Charleston, West Virginia, the first such meeting outside DC in 27 years.
We also plan to expand several programs such as the NEA’s work with the military through Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network and the exciting cross-disciplinary research by our Office of Research and Analysis.
Lastly, I want to make certain that the agency continues to be managed in an effective and efficient manner, focused on advancing our mission to support artistic excellence and access to the arts for all.
Unlike many other Trump appointees, Carter appears to be informed and at least somewhat engaged. She has acknowledged the potential for art to be helpful in addressing mental and physical challenges, such as her daughter’s learning disabilities, and post-traumatic stress disorder in military veterans. And if you still feel concerned, just remember, there’s not really much damage Carter can do, anyway — since, for the second year running, Trump has stripped the NEA of its funding.