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Actress stepping down from Arts Endowment helm

As long expected, actress Jane Alexander announced Wednesday she is stepping down as chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts after apparently winning another year of life for the agency.

Alexander, 57, spent much of her four-year term as head of the agency defending it from conservatives in Congress who wanted to strip it of operating funds. She said Wednesday the Endowment will be more important in coming years."As our nation moves into the next millennium, I believe that the Endowment's role as a national voice for the arts will become even more vital," she said.

Clinton praised the actress, saying, "She has served her country with the same standard of excellence she gives to her artistry."

Alexander has told friends she intends to follow through on a desire to resume her acting career.

A House-Senate conference committee agreed last week to provide $98 million for the agency to operate in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. That level of financing, down $1.5 million from last year, is expected to be approved by the full House and Senate.

She took over the agency four years ago Wednesday.

The NEA has been under fire since the 1980s from conservative critics who oppose it for supporting what they see as anti-religious and pornographic art.

As a price for current-year funding, Congress is demanding a greater say on how it distributes money.