The selection of William Ivey, executive director of the Country Music Foundation, to head the National Endowment for the Arts is a shrewd-even inspired-move by President Clinton.
But Mr. Ivey
, an ethnomusicologist by trade, is hardly a good ol' Southern boy.
Born in Detroit and educated at the University of Michigan and Indiana University, he taught for a time at Brooklyn College and has served as chairman of the N.E.A.'s folk-arts panel.
, it appears, is more an academic than a Bubba.
may do better than most of his
For one thing, he clearly understands the N.E.A., and he is an expert in a popular art form generally overlooked by scholars.
Those who question Mr. Ivey's
commitment to the classical and fine arts, however, are stuck with a subtle problem: To object too strenuously to his
appointment is to risk the charge of elitism.
And the nomination of a folklorist with 26 years of talkin' Southern at the Country Music Foundation
also sticks it to Congress.
President Clinton's appointment reminds effete Easterners, myself included, that the political gravity of America has shifted southward and westward.
is demographically correct, and only at his
peril will even the most recalcitrant member of Congress appear to oppose a man whose full-time job has been to legitimize country music as a uniquely American art form.
One can hope that Mr. Ivey's
journey to confirmation will go smoothly.
But the fight to preserve the endowment will go on, and his
selection as chairman could mean that the battle to gut the agency will have to be waged more adroitly by its opponents.
In the past, the us-and-them scenario-the good, plain folks in Congress versus Eastern snobbism-made for good press in the hinterlands.
This nomination undercuts that mindset.
A minority in Congress is still very much determined to eliminate the N.E.A.
, and the prospects for its survival remain uncertain.
The selection of William Ivey
may stave off the worst for a time.