Though the event passed largely unnoted even within the arts community, the United States Senate voted unanimously to confirm Michael P. Hammond as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts on December 20, 2001. The announcement came three months after he was first nominated by President George W. Bush.
Hammond, currently dean of The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Texas, brings extensive administrative experience to the job, along with practical knowledge gained while working in the field as a composer and conductor. Accepting the chairmanship, he stressed the NEA’s role in supporting the country’s heritage and advocated for arts education.
At the time of the announcement, Hammond released this statement:
“I am honored by the Senate’s confirmation of President Bush’s nomination of me as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. As Americans, we are all heirs to an incredibly rich and diverse artistic and cultural heritage. It is essential, particularly at this difficult period in our history, to draw support and inspiration from that heritage, and to encourage and support the finest work of our own time. The Arts Endowment is committed to these tasks. I shall work to increase its role in making the arts an ever more valuable part of our lives, connecting us to the past, illuminating the present, and inspiring our future. I will advocate especially for policies and practices that enhance the experience of our young people – by giving them the insights and skills that lead to understanding and participation in the arts.”
Hammond, 69, has been dean of Rice’s music school since 1986. Prior to that, he was the founding dean of music for the new arts campus of the State University of New York at Purchase, New York, where he later served as president. During that time he also founded the Pepsico Summerfare, a major international arts festival at Purchase. Before going to New York, he had been director of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee.
Hammond studied at Lawrence University, Delhi University (India), and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. According to his bio, he has written numerous scores for theater and has a special interest in the music of Southeast Asia, Western Medieval and Renaissance music, and the relationships between neuroscience and music. He holds a degree from Oxford in philosophy, psychology, and physiology and has taught neuroanatomy and physiology at Marquette Medical School and the University of Wisconsin.
In addition to his work in administration, Hammond has held positions as associate conductor of the American Symphony with Leopold Stokowski, conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic, musical director and conductor of the Dessoff Choirs in New York City, and as composer-in-residence for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. He is currently director of Canticum, an ensemble that performs Medieval and Renaissance vocal music, and is a vice-chairman of the board of Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan.