He was appointed chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, by President Bill Clinton and served from 1998 to 2001. He gained national notoriety in 1999 for unilaterally revoking a grant to Cinco Puntos Press to publish La Historia de los Colores, a children's book written by Subcomandante Marcos of the EZLN, over concerns that the funding might end up in the hands of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (Zapatistas). The grant was subsequently picked up and doubled by the Lannan Foundation.
- Engaging Art : the Next Great Transformation of America's Cultural Life (2007). ISBN 9780415960427 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights. (2008). ISBN 9780520241121 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- Handmaking America: A Back-to-Basics Pathway to a Revitalized American Democracy, Counterpoint Press, 2012, ISBN 9781619020535 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- Cinco Puntos Press
- "Conversation: William Ivey", PBS Newshour, Phil Ponce, June 25, 1998
- "Bill Ivey, Former NEA Chairman, Author of 'Handmaking America'", PBS Newshour, Jeffrey Brown , October 29, 2012