Biden Announces Pathbreaking Nominees to Lead Top US Cultural Institutions

October 7th, 2021

President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced his picks to helm the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), selecting Maria Rosario Jackson to lead the former and Shelley C. Lowe to head the latter. If their nominations are approved by the Senate, Jackson would become the first African American and Mexican American to serve as NEA chief, while Lowe would be the first Native American to steer the NEH.

Jackson, who holds a doctorate in urban planning from the University of California, is a professor at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University. Before taking up her post there, she worked for the Washington, DC–based Urban Institute, founding the think tank’s Culture, Creativity and Communities Program. Among the cultural boards she has served on are those of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts and the Music Center, in Los Angeles, and that of the Smithsonian in Washington.

Lowe is a veteran educator and a member of the Navajo Nation. She is currently executive director of the Native American Program at Harvard University, previously having served as director of the Native American Culture Center at Yale University, where she was also assistant dean. Before coming to Yale, she worked in the American Indian Studies Program at Arizona University for a half-dozen years.

Each candidate has a deep history with the institution she is nominated to lead, with Jackson having been appointed by then-president Barack Obama to the advisory council of the NEA and Lowe to that of the NEH. The agencies are in the process of disbursing $135 million apiece this year, the money coming from Biden’s American Rescue Plan and thus falling outside their regular budgets. Both the NEA and the NEH are expected to receive major funding boosts in 2022.