After a big Basque breakfast with Mayor Dave Bieter on Monday, Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts for about eight months now, stood in the large but cozy timber-and-brick meeting area of the Esther Simplot Center for the Performing Arts, and told heads of Treasure Valley arts organizations that he's a longtime fan of Roger Miller.
To be in the city where "King of the Road" is said to have been penned (Miller supposedly wrote it while staying at the historic Idanha Hotel) may have been reason enough for a visit, but Landesman—dressed in a dark suit and a pair of shiny, burgundy colored cowboy boots—came to Idaho to do more than gaze at the birthplace of a beloved song. With plans to visit Jerome and Twin Falls later in the day, Landesman came to Boise to speak on the importance of arts funding but, more importantly, he also came to learn something about the arts in this "isolated area."
After an introduction of Mayor Bieter by Idaho Commission on the Arts' Michael Faison, Mayor Bieter then introduced Landesman. The former Broadway producer spoke to the group of about 35 arts organization leaders about the importance arts plays in a city's overall health—both in a civic and economic sense—and confirmed what community leaders already know: that a vibrant arts scene enhances the quality of life and brings not only more creative people to an area, but businesses as well. "People want to live where there is art and culture," he said. "And businesses follow people."
Landesman also acknowledged that amid a swirl of budget deficits and cuts to funding, he has been looking outside of the traditional government agencies for arts money, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education and the private sector.
In the hour or so that the meeting lasted, Landesman heard from Richard Klautsch of Boise State; Julie Numbers-Smith from Ballet Idaho; Tony Boatman of the Boise Philharmonic; Carl Rowe of Idaho Dance Theatre, Jean Andrews from Music Theatre of Idaho; John Michael Schert from Trey McIntyre Project; Melanie Fales of the Boise Art Museum; Cheryl Maddalena of Big Tree Arts; Mark Junkert from Opera Idaho; all of whom provided Landesman with an overview of his or her arts organizations.
Esther Simplot also addressed Landesman, publicly saying she believes that arts education is important, but believes that rather than insisting grant applications include a statement of how education will be included, the NEA should focus more on funding art for art's sake.