Michael Killoren can’t wait to begin his gig as new CEO of the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg. The six-year veteran of the National Endowment for the Arts starts at the community-based arts organization June 1.
Killoren’s appointment was announced in March, right around the time President Donald Trump called to eliminate the NEA in his first federal budget plan (as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and 16 other federal agencies).
“It’s a dynamic environment, and administrations come and go and change and have different priorities,” says Killoren, adding that he is still very much employed with the NEA. “More to the point, I think the agency does great work, and has great impact across the country, and we’ll just have to see how this plays out.”
As Killoren notes, different administrations have different priorities when it comes to funding the arts in America.
In 1981, Ronald Reagan hoped to eliminate the NEA, and Newt Gingrich attempted to kill it again in 1995 after the Republicans took over both the U.S. House and Senate for the first time in 40 years. Although neither were successful, on both occasions the NEA’s budget was slashed.
Over its history, the NEA has seen a varying range of annual budgets — from just under $3 million in 1966 to $176 million in 1992. Currently, the Endowment’s annual appropriation is just under $148 million.
In 2017, the Morean Arts Center celebrates its 100th anniversary in St. Petersburg, with yearlong celebrations. The organization offers adult programs, kids’ programs, family programs, early childhood programs, and summer camp programs and outreach programs geared toward youth, many at risk.
“It does amazing work,” says Killoren on how the Morean connects people in the community with arts, printmaking, drawing, photography, glass blowing, writing and ceramics.
“I think organizations like this are more important than ever because I think everyone should have access to an opportunity to engage in an expressive life, and that’s what this organization does,” says Killoren, who says that in a way it’s a return to his roots in “hyper-localism.”
Before his 2010 hire at the NEA, Killoren worked in Seattle as director of the Mayor’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs.
Killoren loves St. Pete, and considers it a “hidden gem.”
Regarding the city’s seven different art districts, he’s not sure the story is widely known “what a great arts city this is.”
Until a few years ago Killoren didn’t know much about the city, he says, when he visited St. Petersburg with his husband: “We were just blown away by what we saw.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Morean Arts Center hosts the 13th Congressional District Art Competition.