Lobbyist Finds Niche in Public Sculptures

Chwat & Co. President Gets Chance to Demonstrate His Love of Shakespeare

Posted October 31, 2003 at 4:02pm

While K Street insiders usually prefer to schmooze at power spots like The Palm, lobbyist and art enthusiast John Chwat finds solace in rubbing elbows at the Folger Theater.

That’s because Chwat & Co. represents the American Friends of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, a nonprofit group that works to preserve landmarks through educational programs and fundraising.

To be sure, his Alexandria, Va.-based firm has traditional clients such as the University of Oklahoma and the National Association of Assistant US Attorneys.

But Chwat says he gets the most fulfillment out of the lobbying he does for the placement of public sculptures — most inspired by the works of William Shakespeare — in D.C. and around the world.

“It’s a different side of lobbying,” the Washington native said. “It’s a niche we’ve chosen to work on.”

Chwat also represents the nonprofit Shakespeare Birthplace Trust as well as Greg Wyatt, a New York-based sculptor who has several pieces scattered across Washington.

Last spring, the Folger Shakespeare Library was decorated with several statues Chwat was instrumental in having placed. Four sculptures inspired by the works of Shakespeare now stand in the library’s Elizabethan Garden.

Garland Scott of the Folger Library called Chwat a “passionate advocate” who has found a way to merge his work with his outside interests.

“I think he was just looking for a way to have more time working on his interests,” Scott said. “This way he gets to express his love of Shakespeare.”

Doubling as president of the American Friends and a seasoned lobbyist, Chwat has used his Rolodex and political expertise to successfully have several of Wyatt’s Shakespeare-inspired bronze statues displayed around Capitol Hill, including at the State Department and in Congressional offices. His efforts have also produced placements in Albany, N.Y., Nashville, Tenn., and Charleston, S.C.

Chwat’s quirky interest is a relatively new element to his 30-year career, which started in the early 1970s as chief of staff to the late Rep. John Breckinridge (D-Ky.) and former Rep. Bill Boner (D-Tenn.).

It was not until the late 1980s that Chwat took his personal interests in art and literature and developed them into a unique career. With the help of then-Rep. Bill Green (R-N.Y.), Chwat brought a sculpture exhibit to the House Cannon Office Building in 1989. The temporary display drew support and intrigue from Members and staffers, which Chwat said is what triggered him to continue lobbying for sculpture placements.

“It was a great example of using Congressional relations to achieve placements” of sculptures, Chwat said.

With his contacts on the Hill, the lobbyist said he is able to avoid the red tape that takes other projects years to be unveiled.

In June 2004, Chwat will again attend an unveiling ceremony at the Folger’s garden for the arrival of four additional Wyatt sculptures.

As head of the American Friends, Chwat will be thrilled at the celebration of Shakespeare. As president of a lobbying firm, he will be pleased with his company’s latest accomplishment.

“I have an advantage with this type of lobbying,” Chwat said. “I’m definitely very familiar with the work involved in the placements. Plus, this is an area I’m interested in.”