National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu will be in Phoenix August 11, and will talk on Arizona Horizon about the NEA on its 50th anniversary. Chu will discuss the agency’s first 50 years, shifting models of arts funding and the changing role of artists in a 21st century economy,ALONG WITH Robert Booker executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
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TED: Tonight's edition of Arizona Artbeat features the chair of the national endowment for the arts. Jane Chu is in Phoenix today as part of the N E A's 50th anniversary celebration. We welcome N E A chair Jane Chu and executive director of Arizona commission on the arts, Robert Booker, both to Arizona Horizon. Good to see you both here. Thank you for joining me. The National Endowment for the Arts, what is that?
JANE CHU: Well it is the federal arts agency. It is 50 years old established in 1965 and so we have really over the past 50 years been about supporting the arts all across America to make sure all Americans have the opportunity to thrive with the arts.
TED: Why was N-E-A established and why in 1965?
JANE CHU: It was really established under President Lyndon Johnson and it was about nurturing and elevating, sustaining the creativity in America. So over the past 50 years the National Endowment for the Arts has supported about 147,000 grants all throughout America. About 5 billion dollars worth of grants.
TED: And from Arizona perspective, what is the relationship with the N-E-A?
ROBERT BOOKER: Great partnership. State arts agencies around the country have a financial relationship with the National Endowment for the Arts where we receive direct funding from that organization to provide resources to our state, Arizona citizens. And we have a relationship working closely on communication, workshops, training, a wide variety. We too are celebrating our 50th year.
Ted: Everyone is having a big ole time. He mentioned that getting money from the N-E-A, big factor, and where does the N-E-A get its money?
JANE CHU: It is appropriated by congress each year.
TED: So that's it.
JANE CHU: That's it.
TED: I know that every once in a while some folks in congress fuss about this. Talk about art and how it sometimes needs to be confrontational and controversial. How do you balance that with the fact it is publically funded? Certainly the arts are for everyone and they have all kinds of opportunities to be engaged and that is a message we like to send out. The arts are not a silo by themselves or elitest and for some people. There is something to celebrate in the arts and honor. It is a form of self-expression in so many different ways so we celebrate everything from the wonderful museums that are happening and the great music and the celebration of the traditional and folk art as well as arts education and music education of all kinds.
TED: I know that one of the goals here is to create art of highest standards of excellence. Whose standards?
JANE CHU: That is what we love about the way the model for the national endowment for the arts when it comes to making grants. We have our wonderful partners as well as Robert said but we have a three part process when grants are received and proposals are reviewed. The first people who read the National Endowment for the Arts proposals are the citizens. We bring together citizen experts from all over the nation to read on panels and make recommendations and several other steps involving other citizens as well as the chair. So the bottom line message out of all of that is we are shaping the arts and America together because there is not just one person telling you what is and then the other great thing is about your peers. If you receive a national endowment for the arts grant your peers have recommended you do too. So that is quite a double compliment.
TED: Does this sound familiar as far as Arizona does business?
ROBERT BOOKER: Very familiar. We use the same panel process and bring in individuals from Arizona to make the recommendations to the board. The other thing that we are so excited about - our recent studies on participation shows Arizonans is participating at a higher level than many of our sister states around us. We are seeing a growth participation in the arts from singing in choir to attending an opera. There is a wide range of how people are participating these days and we are excited to know Arizonans are participating higher than our neighboring states.
TED: What do you do with confrontational art and controversial art where not everyone is on that same page? It's something very different.
ROBERT BOOKER: I would say there is a place for everything. There is a place for all kinds of art within the American vocabulary. Some work pushes the edges a bit and makes people feel uncomfortable and in many cases that can be a good thing. Other works soothe and make you relax and feel a little softer about the world and I think that is a great thing. Artists are storytellers and information providers. Artists can be guides to us and so by listening to them, listening to their music, their words, seeing their works, can really give us insight on to what is happening in America and what is happening with our citizens.
TED: You don't want everything to be a field of daffodils and puppy eye paintings.
JANE CHU: What we are seeing across the nation is that other sectors, not even the arts, are saying we see the value of creativity and are looking to even higher artists. We are here to launch our creativity connects initiative which is hooking arts to other non art sectors. We hear businesses say there is a level of creativity in solving problems in new ways and not getting stuck in the same way we've done it before and we recognize people in the arts have that ability. So linking the sectors together with the arts is proving to be valuable.
TED: Can you give us an example of that? That linking via creativity and connecting with other sectors?
JANE CHU: When you start looking at for example, science, did you know nobel laureates are 17 times more likely to actively participate in the arts than other scientists. So when you start seeing the links and dimension the arts brings to the ability to think in a different way there are some colleges now that offer engineering majors, actually it is a requirement. You must take two art classes before you graduate. So we are seeing a giant mash up of other sectors because of the value of arts in other sectors.
TED: And that helps teach others how support systems for the arts are there.
JANE CHU: Indeed.
TED: As far as Arizona is concerned, is all of this making sense and ringing a bell?
ROBERT BOOKER: Very much. Our funding comes from the state of Arizona through the state budget. This year we had a successful session at the legislature and received 1.5 million in support. That was a coalition, bipartisan coalition, signed by the governor. So we had a successful year in really demonstrating the value of the arts to Arizonians and how the arts and artists can be problem solvers in communities.
TED: We just talked about a football stadium keeping up with the times as far as technology is concerned. How in the world is the art company keeping up with technology? It's changing everything.
JANE CHU: It is changing everything and in face our most recent surveys found out of all of America, three quarters of all American adults, and that is about 167 million American adults participate in the arts first through some type of electronic or digital components. So we wanted to make sure the national endowment for the arts was relevant as well. So our original grant making over the past 50 years was about media, television, radio which we still support strongly has branched up to include electronic and digital media as well. You are right about technology expanding things and so the arts are on board to use their creativity to think how can I make this my own? How can we spur on creativity even more through technology?
TED: And we're talking technological change here. Social change. Gay marriage wasn't even on the radar here ten years ago. Legalizing marijuana is going to be on Arizona's ballot. Things are happening pretty fast out there. How do the arts react?
ROBERT BOOKER: The arts are part of our fabric. They ground us in our heritage and in what Arizonians respect from their own history. But they also are a bright light that lead us to the future. Artist can be talking about social issues, racial justice, social equity in ways that others don't have the vocabulary to talk about it. Artists can help people understand where we are going as a society and create meaningful paths to a brighter future and a brighter Arizona.
TED: National Endowment for the Arts, you are the chief there. What got you into arts? Were you always interested? Was it a late passion?
JANE CHU: My parents are from China and they met in America. During the time of change in their government, unrest, they never saw their families again as they both came to America to go to school. I was born in Oklahoma and grew up in Arkansas. I have navigated through a boc choy corn bread lifestyle my whole life. The great thing about that is that I learned and now get a lot of energy in making sure we are able to honor all of the different perspectives in our world without forcing everybody to be exactly alike. When my father died though at an early age, I was nine, he was ill, I didn't have enough words to express my own profound grief at a loss of a parent. But my piano lessons that I was taking allowed me to express myself and it was soothing and I could belong through music in the way I could not articulate through the linear use of everyday conversation. When we see the power of the arts and what it can do for peoples expression whether it is children, and certainly we have seen some profound effects on children. But in any age, individual, and economic vitality of the community, is the social vitality, we think the arts can be at the center of something very meaningful.
TED: That is a great definition of the arts and how it affects folks. Good to have you. Thank you both for joining us on Arizona Horizon.
Jane Chu: National Endowment for the Arts Chairman, Robert Booker: Executive Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts