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The John F. Kennedy Center's new chairman, James Wolfensohn, has come to the defense of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the battle over its future that has rocked the politics of art. In a speech last week, Mr. Wolfensohn told a national conference of the American Symphony Orchestra League, that they were ``in Washington, at a time of great strain, great turbulence'' because the NEA, ``an institution which has helped to stimulate work and be partners with all of us, is under such serious attack. ... It is important that we have people who are independent and are out there able to stand up and say this [attack] is wrong. We've got to do something about it.''

At another point in the speech, he said, ``I've been screaming from the treetops about how important the National Endowment for the Arts is.''

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Wolfensohn, who is chairman of New York's Carnegie Hall as well as Kennedy Center, also spoke of the role of the latter institution as a symbol of the arts in the nation's capital. ``It is a place where we can ... nightly say - to the legislators, the visitors, the people from around the world, the diplomatic community - that this country stands for more than money, for more than balance of power, for more than savings-and-loan scandals. ... It stands also for the continuity of the performing arts; that ... we do have standards of excellence; that we do care about [them].''

He said that Kennedy Center is a place that ``every night reminds Congress and visitors that the performing arts are alive'' whatever happens in relation to the National Endowment, and that ``no one can stop our bugles blowing or our pianos playing, or our singers singing, and that we'll do it proudly and well, with the basis of not just government support'' but of volunteers and others in the private sector.

In an unrelated announcement, Wolfensohn later said that Kennedy Center will be expanding its national showcase via television to reach an audience of millions. He has just named former cable TV executive Carolyn Reynolds to a new job, director of television and special projects at Kennedy Center. Ms. Reynolds has been director of programming at the Arts & Entertainment cable network. Wolfensohn said that the entertainment and educational broadcasting Kennedy Center hopes to develop will be supported by sponsors but will be nonprofit.

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