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Alexander's NEA Gears Up For Hard Look At Its Mission

EVERY work of art has two equally important purveyors. First, the artist; and second, the benevolent sponsor who pays the rent.

Patrons such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) have been supporting artists since the dawn of disposable income.

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In the last five years, however, public arts patronage in the United States has grown complicated. NEA advocates have been forced to explain themselves to Congress. Demographic, technological, and cultural flux have thrust the endowment into a period of intense self-examination.

Redefining the mission of the agency will be the central theme of an NEA-sponsored National Arts Conference in Chicago, April 14 through 16.

In a prepared statement, Chairman Jane Alexander noted that the endowment has not changed its modus operandi since its inception in 1964.

``On the eve of a new millennium, we, as a complex and diverse nation, must ask ourselves where we need to go and how we can get there,'' she said. ``We at the endowment need to ask what role the arts will play in enriching the lives of our citizens, the spirit of our communities, and our character as a nation.''

THE three-day conference, formally titled ``ART-21: Art reaches into the 21st Century'' is expected to draw 1,000 participants. The lectures, workshops, and panel discussions will revolve around four topics: the artist in society, the arts in technology, expanding resources for the arts, and lifelong learning through the arts.

Panelists will include educators, artists, and administrators. Keynote speakers will range from Housing and Urban Development secretary, Henry Cisneros, to Ernest Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

This first-of-its-kind conference furthers efforts by Ms. Alexander to widen the arts community and improve perception of the NEA.

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Since she took office six months ago, the former actress has visited 27 states to promote the endowment. In addition, she has been forced to drop several programs from the endowment's dole to meet a congressionally mandated budget cut.

Although Alexander's nomination has soothed the arts community and raised hopes among endowment supporters, the days of tumultuous Congressional floor debates may not be over. NEA reauthorization hearings are pending in the Senate.

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