Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, will resign her position in June. Appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015, Jane Chu has overseen the nation’s prime arts organization with intelligence and directness.
During her tenure, Jane Chu has spoken tirelessly about the vital importance of the arts and creativity in everyday life–in every single person’s everyday life. She repeatedly crisscrossed the U.S. observing and then reporting about the fundamental value of the arts as a still not fully appreciated tool for creating meaning and building community.
I count myself lucky to have met Jane Chu. I heard her speak several times at regional and national conferences. Self-effacing, clear, and openly optimistic, Jane Chu consistently reported the data and told the stories about the ways in which the arts are very naturally intertwined into the American value system.
Jane Chu grew up in northeastern Oklahoma and northwestern Arkansas, the child of Chinese immigrants. The first time I introduced myself to her and told her where I grew up, she immediately said, “I know Pratt, Kansas. Beautiful small town.” We exchanged our experiences about discerning our individual paths in the American heartland.
Dollars in every district
In the last several years, under her tenure, the NEA presented support into every single congressional district in the nation. Communities, schools, and individuals captured well-earned, competitive support for creative exploration, arts-powered education initiatives, improved health care outcomes, placemaking and economic development projects, and much more.
Did you know that Vermont, per capita, commands more dollars from the NEA than any other state? First the largest amount of support goes to the Vermont Arts Council, to be redistributed through its grant programs. In addition, NEA has invested in half a dozen Vermont communities through its Our Town Program, and, annually, provides important support for signal projects. In its first round of funding for this fiscal year, the NEA will deliver more than $120,000 directly to Vermont community organizations.
Kingdom County Productions, St. Johnsbury
New England Center for Circus, Brattleboro
Marble House Project, Dorset
Middlebury College, Middlebury
Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier
Yellow Barn, Putney
Governor’s Institutes of Vermont, South Burlington
Jane Chu in Vermont
Jane Chu visited Vermont about two years ago. In the southeastern part of the state, she met leaders of Vermont Performance Lab (Guilford) and Sand Glass Theatre (Putney) as well as elected officials, all who bore witness to the value of NEA investments made. In Bennington, hosted by the Vermont Arts Council and Vermont Arts Exchange, she was guest for a town hall-style meeting.
This sort of multi-faceted, face-to-face connection is a perfectly typical example of the type of exchange that Jane Chu described as part of her experience getting to know America.
I will miss Jane Chu’s level-headed, common sense approach. Here’s hoping her next steps will give space for her considerable, energetic focus on the value of the arts for all Americans.