Friends told him to "fight the good fight," he said, but he thought the last thing the NEA needed was a fight.
"It's the wrong metaphor. The right one is a conversation, and good conversations are always changing."
Not everyone gets that: A Dim View of Dana Gioia.
Let me say upfront that I know Dana and like and admire him and his poetry. The problem I have with what Regina Hackett has to say is that the NEA is meant to serve the citizens of this country regarding art, not simply those citizens of this country who are artists. And the best way to start serving the citizens of this country regarding art is to get a conversation going that persuades those citizen's of art's value. The NEA under Dana has brought more than just Shakespeare and Tennyson to the attention of the public. It has reminded the public of writers like Steinbeck and Willa Cather (to name two that come to mind just off the top of my head) and in so doing has provided readers with what Van Wyck Brooks called a usable past, a literary context.
I think what Hackett would prefer is a government agency doing art patronage. As someone who used to peddle art, I don't think that's a good idea. Art patronage and art collection are best done by individuals not bureaucrats - or even curators, for that matter. As I have said before, visit the Phillips Collection and note the difference between what Duncan Phillips himself collected and what has been gathered since by curators.
The NEA is a government agency. In other words, a political entity. And politics works best when common ground is established. Finding that common ground is what Dana has been doing - and doing well.