Two years ago in New Orleans and last month in Seattle, Frank Hodsoll talked about using his office as a "bully pulpit" in support of arts education.
During intermission on a recent PBS "Live From Lincoln Center" program celebrating the 85th birthday of composer Aaron Copland, Hodsoll was campaigning on the education theme again, saying "we're . . . trying to make the arts a basic part of education, (and we're) trying to do that in the schools."
So what is the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, admittedly a "David" in the process of determining educational policy, doing on the turf of the "Goliaths"--the U.S. Department of Education and state educational departments and local school districts?
"Somebody has to make the case," Hodsoll said in a recent telephone interview. Just appointed by President Reagan to a second four-year term as NEA chief, he is the first lawyer and first former career government official to head the endowment, and its fourth chairman in 20 years.
Former deputy assistant to the President and deputy to former chief of staff James A. Baker III at the White House during the first year of the Reagan Administration, Hodsoll is making arts education, or "literacy" in the arts for every high school graduate, his issue.
" I picked this. Since we're spending the taxpayers' money, we have the duty of bringing the arts we support to everybody," he says.
The 47-year-old administrator has dabbled in the arts himself, starting with piano lessons at age 5. "And that came through a teacher, not an artist," he emphasizes. At prep school in Santa Barbara and later at Yale, where he was "partly an art history major," he performed in theater productions and sang in glee clubs.
Hodsoll has managed to pick for himself a pistol of an issue. And the crux of it is his apparent emphasis on teachers--not artists. That has drawn fire from a key national arts organization, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.
State arts agencies across the nation have artists-in-residence programs, funded by the states and the national endowment, whereby artists from a variety of disciplines are dispatched to schools, hospitals, prisons and other community and cultural centers. Arts agency representatives fear that with Hodsoll's new emphasis these programs are now in jeopardy.
Within the state arts agencies, artists-in-education coordinators, who oversee the residency programs, worry that Hodsoll, like Theodore Roosevelt who coined the phrase bully pulpit, may be speaking softly and carrying a big stick--the stick of funding denial.
Hodsoll and the executive board of the National Assembly will hold a summit of sorts in Washington on Wednesday in an attempt to resolve their impasse.
The arts education issue mean while has broader ramifications. Here is Hodsoll focusing on arts education and yet within the endowment's $163-million budget, the current artists-in-education program (whose name Hodsoll wants changed to art-in-education) amounts to $5.6 million--or 3 1/2% of the NEA budget. It falls between the endowment's $5.1 million in literature grants to individual writers and its $6.9 million in expansion (or ethnic minority) arts program.
Moreover, the NEA's $163-million budget is virtually a drop in the nation's budget-bucket compared to the gargantuan Department of Education, whose budget is $17.9 billion.
"Granted, we have a flat budget. . . . However, we have an educational program, and we can make that count even more. There are some who disagree," acknowledges Hodsoll, a Republican who hardly expects the endowment's budget, or indeed the programmatic budget, to grow in an era of ever-escalating national debt.
"I think that money is less important than process on the state and local level, of going to get schools and have them see it in their interest to spend their money," Hodsoll explains, "and they have a lot of money that's (spent on arts education) not focused, not sequential. I think it's worth a try. We're not going to shift massive amounts of money."
"In a number of states," he continues, "I don't know whether it's a majority or a minority--there is no question that there is resistance on the part of the artist residency coordinators. They--at least what is being conveyed to me--are very concerned about 'David and Goliath.' Secondly, they are concerned that moving more in this direction might undercut their ability to get money for residencies either from us or the states. First, that's not our intention. . . . "
Asked whether it couldn't happen that way, Hodsoll replies: "All sorts of things happen hypothetically," and on a softer note, adds: "There are risks."