Nancy Hanks - NEA Chair 
By Kathleen McFadden

     Two years after Nancy Hanks graduated from Duke University in 1949, she began working for the U.S. government as a secretary in the Office of Defense Mobilization. Nelson Rockefeller, who was then undersecretary of the newly created Department of Health, Education and Welfare, scooped Nancy up as his personal assistant. That association would change the course of her life. 

     She worked with Rockefeller (a wealthy public official who began government service in 1940 and would ultimately serve four terms as governor of New York and one term as U.S. vice president) on government projects through 1956, and then was named executive secretary for the Special Studies Project under the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. (The Fund is a philanthropic organization established in 1940 to combine the charitable activities of the children of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., heir to the immense Rockefeller oil fortune.) As coordinator for a project known as "The Performing Arts: Problems and Prospects," Nancy developed a thorough understanding of the state of the performing arts in America. Her interest and expertise in the arts led to her presidency of the Associated Councils of the Arts in 1968, followed the next year by her nomination by President Richard Nixon to become the chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA had only been established in 1965, and faced a number of problems. Not only was it under funded, but it had no permanent office. 

     Nancy was determined to solve both problems. In her first year, she persuaded Congress to double the NEA's funding from $8 million to $16 million. Over the course of her 8-year term, Nancy would bring that apportionment up to $114 million. In addition to subsidizing national tours of dance companies, orchestras, and opera and theater groups, the NEA also supported a nationwide effort to rescue historically significant buildings from demolition. One of those was the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C. Although the building was scheduled to be torn down, Nancy was able to convince Congress to save it and make it the permanent home of the NEA.   

     Nancy did not live to see its dedication. She died of cancer just a few months before the refurbished building opened, but an act of Congress designated the building as the Nancy Hanks Center to recognize her efforts. Nancy was born on December 31, 1927, and died in January 1983.