Setting The Arts Apart

By Richard Schultz, October 2016 Issue.

As part of its annual arts season preview, Echo reached out to leaders in arts organizations on the national, state and local levels for a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the upcoming season.

From the challenges they anticipate facing to their individual forecasts for the arts in the coming year, Jane Chu, National Endowment for the Arts chairman; Robert Booker, Arizona Commission on the Arts executive director; and Ralph Remington, City of Tempe Arts and Cultural Division deputy director, shared their thoughts on what lies ahead.

National: Jane Chu

Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts

In August, the Arizona Commission on the Arts hosted Jane Chu, 11th chairman the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). During a brief, two-day tour, Chu visited several nonprofit arts organizations, spoke with local artists and participated in a town hall conversation at Mesa Arts Center.

With a background in arts administration and philanthropy, Chu is also an accomplished artist and musician. She leads a dedicated and passionate group of people to support and fund the arts and creative activities in communities across the nation.

Echo: We are thrilled to have you visit Arizona. What can you tell us about your trip?

Chu: I have been touring and seeing the arts first-hand. We want to make sure all communities are engaged and benefiting from the arts. We also had the opportunity thank our key partners in the communities like the Arizona Commission on the Arts. Our goal is for everyone to be involved with arts. So, in visiting with our partners in different states and regions, we gain a treasure of knowledge and broader understanding about what’s working well and where the needs exist.

Echo: What do you see happening with the arts?

Chu: We are moving away from that old, tired perspective that the arts are separate from the rest of society. Or that they are only for some people and not for others, when we know that it is not true because when artists create they draw in a deeper level of meaning and value and new energy. They are able to find new solutions to old problems and then solve them in unexpected ways.

Echo:What’s the state of funding for the arts?

Chu: On the national level, the arts generate 743 billion dollars in revenue; that’s 4.2 percent of the gross domestic product. Also, the nonprofit sector is responsible [for] 12 billion dollars in revenue. For the last two years, we have been able to get increases for the NEA because we are making the point that the arts have an impact on economics, education and foster understanding and inclusiveness.

Echo:Is there a program that makes applying for a NEA grant more accessible?

Chu: On the national level, it can be so bureaucratic to apply for a government grant. We have seen neighborhood and small organizations that are doing really good work, but just cannot get through all the paperwork. So [we] have a program, Challenge America, that is designed for smaller grants that simplify the application process. It bypasses the lengthy applications and encourages organizations to pursue smaller grants. It’s a jump-start grant. A number of the Challenge America grantees have said, “Now I’m ready to take on the process for a larger grant.”

Echo: What is your perspective on the changing role of the LGBTQ community?

Chu: The arts are one of the best avenues to honor diversity of all kinds. Generally speaking, we will continue to be very mindful that we all celebrate diversity. Interestingly, the NEA received a special Tony Award on the day of the Orlando shooting. I was in New York to accept the award. The amazing thing that happened was that everyone who was getting an award and everyone behind the scenes stopped to make sure we acknowledged our collective support to honor the victims of that tragedy.

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