Working in the arts is very rewarding and a little scary, similar to the creative process itself. Not all the people who work in the arts would consider themselves artists. Crafting the message, beating the drum, waving the flag, has become a craft in itself. We are trusted to tell the artist’s story—not only the whos and hows, but also the whys. We champion the creative process, from education and creation to implementation and projected impact. For every artist and art form there is an army of people pushing forward, fighting for space, time, resources and funds.
Utah has a strong history of supporting the arts with the establishment of the first State Art Council, a model for all states thereafter. Our City Arts Councils are very active. Regionally, we benefit from the knowledge and funding of Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) and on a federal level, many of Utah’s arts organizations receive support from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This spring, the NEA awarded 12 organizations throughout the state over 1 million dollars as part of their Art Works grant program.
NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu came to Salt Lake City on May 7 to support the efforts of the Utah Division of Arts and Museums’ Mountain West Arts Conference. While here, she visited three of the spring grantees: Virginia Tanner Dance, Art Access and the Utah Arts Festival. At the end of her very busy day, I had the unique pleasure of speaking with her for a few moments—from one art champion to another.
SLUG: After visiting Virginia Tanner Dance, Art Access and the Utah Arts Festival, what is your impression of these programs in comparison to what you’re seeing on a national level?
Jane Chu: These three organizations really have their ear to the ground on what would be the most meaningful approach to be able to express their art form and to spark vitality. It’s not a one-size-fits-all format, it’s customized for their community.”
SLUG: You support over 16 different disciplines—how do you compare and distinguish who receive the NEA funds?
Chu: Our criteria for all art forms is artistic excellence and artistic merit. We are looking for programs that are broadening, deepening and diversifying the way we view art.
SLUG: What is your favorite thing the NEA does for the arts outside of awarding money?
Chu: All the partnerships. Networking with State Arts Councils, City Arts Councils and folks at WESTAF—together, we’re shaping the arts. We don’t have a Ministry of Art that tells people what art is. We’re all creating that environment together.
SLUG: What would you say to someone that says arts should be funded through the private sector and not federal funds?
Chu: The NEA is the only national arts funder across the nation that’s thinking of all of America. So, while there are other private forms, like private philanthropy, they are focused on a particular area or interest. We don’t just fund in one place. The NEA’s goal is to make sure all Americans have the ability to access the arts. NEA is about sparking vitality, hope and spirit. While there are other forms of national arts funding, like crowd funding, it too is still subject to resources and connections. We are a giant mash up of this nation. We think about all of America and we take our dollars and create “sparks” all across the nation, from major cities to small rural areas.
SLUG: The NEA turns 50 years old this fall and will kick off a year long celebration highlighting its legacy. You’ve been chairwoman for almost a year, what do you want your legacy to be?
Chu: I want people to understand that art is fused in every aspect of our lives. We are a mash up of people. I myself am a giant mash up, my parents are from China, I was born in Oklahoma, and I was raised in Ohio. I welcome different perspectives. Art helps us honor our differences without forcing people to conform or have the same perspective. Art brings everyone to the table.
If you believe in the mission of the National Endowment of the Arts, as with any federally-regulated program, I recommend you follow them and their efforts during the legislative sessions. NEA’s support is integral to our artistic climate. I want to thank them for their efforts and for Chairwoman Chu’s time.
I leave you with my mantra: Support Art As It Supports You!