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The dean of the music school at Rice University in Houston is President Bush's choice to head the National Endowment for the Arts.

The White House said Wednesday that Bush planned to nominate Michael Hammond of Kenosha, Wis., a conductor and composer whose interests include the music from Southeast Asia and the Renaissance, as well as medieval music.

Hammond would succeed Bill Ivey, who took over in 1998 after running the Country Music Foundation in Nashville, Tenn., for 27 years. He announced in April that he would step down Sept. 30, eight months before his term officially ends.

Hammond, 69, said in a statement, "The arts can help heal our country and be a source of pride and comfort." The post requires confirmation by the Senate.

The arts agency is well regarded on Capitol Hill these days. Ivey is widely credited for winning over agency foes by reaching out to conservative lawmakers, expanding the agency's focus and helping to shield it from controversy.

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