Olga Viso of Walker Art Center.

Two of three new appointees to the National Council on the Arts are from Minneapolis. Olga Viso, executive director of Walker Art Center, and Ranee Ramaswamy, founder and co-artistic director of the Ragamala Dance Company were recently named by President Obama to the council, which is the governing body of the National Endowment for the Arts.

The council, which meets three times a year, wields considerable influence. It votes on grant funding and rejections, advises on the NEA's budget and policies and gives the President recommendations on who to nominate for the National Medal of the Arts. 

Viso, who as led the Walker since 2008 after a 12-year stint at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., called the appointment, which also had to be approved by the Senate, "a huge honor. It will be a privilege to be a part of this group, to bring a new generation of thinkers to the table as well as a Minnesota presence to conversation."

Ramaswamy has been a master choreographer, performer, and teacher of the South Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam dance since 1978, founding Ragamala in 1992. Among her many awards and honors are 14 McKnight fellowships, a Bush fellowship and being named the Star Tribune's Artist of the Year (with co-director Aparna Ramaswamy, her daughter) in 2011.

The third appointee to the 17-member council is Rick Lowe, an artist and founder of a nonprofit that revitalizes neighborhoods in Houston. Six ex-officio legislator members on the council include two members of Congress from the Upper Midwest: Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). 

Ranee Ramaswamy (right) with her daughter and co-artistic director, Aparna Ramaswamy. Photos by Tom Wallace.

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