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    Poets, Shelley wrote Essay (848 words)

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    Poets, Shelley wrote, are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. In this century, though, poets and artists are demanding political acknowledgement. Vaclav Havel was president of Czechoslovakia. Novelist Mario Vargas Llosa ran for president of Peru. Singer and actor Ruben Blades is vying for the presidency of Panama.

    And now President Clinton has appointed actor Jane Alexander to chair the National Endowment for the Arts. It’s the first time an artist has been named to the top NEA post since the agency was created in 1965.

    The long-awaited choice, rumored since February, could be a symbolic gesture from the White House. It could mean a renewed respect for the arts in this country, and it could be a signal that Clinton will fill the 11 vacancies on the National Council for the Arts with respected leaders in the various arts disciplines, rather than with patrons and politicians, as was frequently the case under the Reagan and Bush Administrations. The NEA faces a potentially contentious debate over reauthorization in Congress this fall, and supporters of the embattled agency point out that it’s about time someone was appointed: The NEA has been without a permanent leader since President Bush ousted John E. Frohnmayer in 1992.

    While Alexander lacks administrative experience, her distinguished career as an actress has been marked by choices that attest to her integrity and commitment. She began her career in Boston before moving on to Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., where she made history in 1967 by co-starring with James Earl Jones in Howard Sackler’s The Great White Hope. The play included a scene with a black man and a white woman in bed together, which at the time aroused heated controversy and frequent hostility from audiences. “It was revolutionary,” recalls then Arena artistic director Zelda Fichandler, who says playing the role required the kind of courage and conviction Alexander will need in her new post at the NEA.

    The Great White Hope moved on to Broadway, validating the regional theatre’s role as a fertile field for new work and winning Alexander a Tony award, and the play was subsequently made into a film. Alexander has been nominated for all the major acting prizes–four times for the Academy Award, five times for the Emmy Award and six times for the Tony.

    But perhaps her most significant laurel wreath now is the Helen Caldicott Award she won in 1984 for her performance in the anti-nuclear film Testament. Alexander has been an ardent political activist for causes ranging from nuclear disarmament to wildlife conservation and feminism. She has testified before a Senate subcommittee defending the NEA and freedom of expression in the arts.

    A history of political activism alone, however, is not enough for a job even the most savvy Beltway insiders wouldn’t touch. Some have expressed concern about Alexander’s lack of administrative experience and that she does not know the ins and outs of Washington. But colleagues who have worked with the actress contend that her passion and intelligence will carry her through.

    The challenge is indeed enormous: Since Sen. Alfonse D’Amato’s legendary outburst on the Senate floor in 1989, when he ripped up an exhibition catalogue to protest an indirect grant to photographer Andres Serrano, no one has been able to shift the debate away from puerile arguments about “obscenity” and “filth” toward an adult discussion of public policy. Even as Clinton was on the brink of announcing Alexander’s appointment, a Virginia-based group called Christian Action Network was on Capitol Hill staging a protest of work it erroneously claimed was supported by the NEA the group mounted its own exhibition called “A Graphic Picture is Worth a Thousand Voices.”

    That same group lobbied to convince the House of Representatives to decrease the NEA’s already paltry $174-million budget by $8.7 million. Overall, the new Administration has sent out mixed signals on the arts: Candidate Clinton spoke out in support of freedom of expression during the campaign, but in April his Justice Department filed a brief defending the constitutionality of the so-called decency language in the NEA legislation.

    Alexander’s job is not going to be easy, judging from the records of the past two individuals who held the post. Frohnmayer tried to please everyone and ended up pleasing no one; he became an “arts warrior,” detractors are prone to point out, only when it was time to write his memoirs and sign up for the lecture circuit. Acting chairman Anne-Imelda Radice said from the outset that she wouldn’t fund “difficult” art, and her last move as chair was the cynical rejection of three grants to organizations that produce gay and lesbian film festivals.

    Some wonder why Alexander fresh from a successful Broadway run in Wendy Wasserstein’s The Sisters Rosensweig would even want the job. She once said that people expected her to run for office after she played Eleanor Roosevelt in a television drama; perhaps it’s equally pertinent that her first role at Arena was the title character in Shaw’s Saint Joan. As leader of an embattled NEA, she’ll need Joan’s fervent passion, vision and strength. One hopes, of course, for a far different ending.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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