Year in Review for Head of NEA

Image credit: Photo by David K. Riddick, courtesy of NEA

March 5, 2023—March is Women’s History Month and this month’s posts for Arts & Culture Connections will feature women in the arts.

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a podcast interview with Maria Rosario Jackson, Ph.D., chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. During the interview, she reviewed her first year as head of the agency and talked about her vision and plans for the years ahead.

Dr. Rosaria Jackson, who is of both African American and Mexican American heritage, is the first person of color to head the NEA. Established in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the NEA funds the arts and arts education in communities nationwide, as well as works to bolster public and private support for the arts.

Dr. Rosario Jackson said during the interview that she views the arts, culture, and design as integral to our daily lives and a “critical element” of a just society. She envisions the NEA as a key player in making sure that everyone has an opportunity to have “artful lives,” and that the arts are a consideration in all facets of life, a philosophy she refers to as “arts in all.”

Over the course of the last year, Dr. Rosario Jackson spent time travelling to meet with government officials, grantees and people who have benefited from NEA-funded programs. She said she sees the NEA as a national resource—not only for the arts, but also for integrating the arts into how we live. For example, she sees the arts as the bridge for mending the nation’s social fabric and a bridge for community healing and well-being. And, for the first time, the NEA has an Equity Action Plan.

Dr. Rosario Jackson said she also believes that it’s important that the NEA take the lead in helping the arts, culture and design sectors take stock of the impact and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of this effort, she said, “we can’t aspire to ‘snap back’ to our pre-pandemic efforts. Arts ecosystems, like natural ecosystems, are shifting, demanding new ways of working, new ways of gauging success and progress.”

The point Dr. Rosario Jackson made during the interview about community engagement was also very important. Rather than just engage with the audiences who consume art, she said, the arts and culture sector should engage with the public to create opportunities for them to explore creativity and imagination—for making, doing, teaching, and learning. She noted that providing opportunities for the public to tell their stories on their own terms also makes it possible for us to celebrate our common humanity.

I urge the readers of Arts & Culture Connections to make the time to listen to the interview at this link. I believe that under Dr. Rosario Jackson’s leadership, the arts, culture and design sectors have the potential to be rightfully recognized (and funded) as public health initiatives that make it possible for all people to live “artful lives.”

As always, I would like to know what you think. I invite you to share your comments and ideas below.

PS: Check out Dr. Rosario Jackson’s presentation on the importance of artful lives at this link.

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