Martha Richards on Nancy Hanks

“Her mission was to make sure every American had access to the arts.”

Nancy Hanks had a mission– “to make sure every American had access to the arts.” It was her life’s work and she permanently changed the landscape of arts in America, inspiring generations. As a Southern woman lobbying in DC politics in the 1960’s and ’70’s, she had her work cut out for her, but she persisted and grew the National Endowment for the Arts to 14 times its size when she took over. Thank you, Nancy! Martha Richards (another persistent woman dedicated to lifting the arts!) tells the story. Heard of the ART Train? Check out the video!


Martha Richards

Martha Richards is the Founder and Executive Director of WomenArts, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the opportunities and visibility of women artists. In 2008 Richards and film critic Jan Lisa Huttner created Support Women Artists Now Day/SWAN Day, a grassroots international holiday that has now been celebrated with approximately 1700 events in 36 countries. Prior to WomenArts, Richards served as the Executive Director of Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College and as the Managing Director of StageWest, a LORT theatre in Springfield, Massachusetts. She writes and lectures frequently on arts and cultural policy issues. Richards has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California Berkeley and a J.D. from the University of California Hastings College of Law.  She was one of the founding directors of California Lawyers for the Arts, and one of the three “founding mothers” of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts.  She currently serves on the Cabinet of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture as their Senior Strategist for Women Artists.

Featured Woman

Nancy Hanks

Nancy Hanks was the most effective leader the National Endowment for the Arts ever had – especially in terms of persuading legislators to increase its budget. Early in her tenure she increased the NEA budget from $8 million to $114 million. The NEA budget was $149.6 million in 1979 (two years after she left) and $149.8 million in 2017 – so no one since has managed to increase the NEA budget the way she did.