NEA Celebrates 40 Years at the NASAA Conference

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NNEA Chairman Dana Gioia admiring a Shakespeare doll haded to him by NASAA CEO Jonathan Katz

NASAA President Jonathan Katz presents a Shakespeare doll to NEA Chairman Dana Gioia.

From the historic stage of the Egyptian Theatre in Boise, Idaho, NEA Chairman Dana Gioia told the audience, "We're here to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Arts Endowment with family." That family is the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). In Boise, NASAA's annual conference was dedicated to "Shaping Cultural Landscapes" - and it was here that the NEA's cultural legacy was celebrated, as well as the federal-state partnerships that bind the two organizations together.

A Short History of the State Arts Agencies

When the NEA was created in 1965, the partnership between federal and state arts agencies was born. In addition to its own direct grants, the Arts Endowment began to fund state arts agencies, allowing them to disperse federal funding to state and local arts organizations. The only problem was that, in 1965, only a few SAAs existed. Those states wishing to get federal money had to create their own arts agency, and fund it.

Today, there are 56 state arts agencies, including all the states and six territories. In 2000 alone, they sponsored the work of over 2 million artists and nearly 16,000 nonprofit arts organizations. Forty years after the NEA was founded, SAAs provide more than half of all public-sector funding for the arts in America.

In a taped video message, Mrs. Laura Bush commended the work of the conference participants: "What all of you do on the state level, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, is of vital importance to the future of America's cultural landscape."

All 50 states were represented at the Boise conference. Faced with the recent devastation of Hurricane Katrina, NEA Chairman Dana Gioia convened conference members from affected states, and joined with them in creating an action plan to deal with the losses in the artistic community. Rebuilding arts organizations is vitally important to the local economies of the Gulf Coast region, Chairman Gioia insisted: "People have to recognize that the arts are a major industry and need to be at the table for the recovery plan. There is no way for these local economies to recover unless we invest in the cultural life. Culture was Louisiana's second-biggest industry, right after health care. These organizations have suffered enormous losses."

Idaho Rising

The Idaho Commission on the Arts hosted the NASAA conference, and showcased Boise's varied and vibrant arts culture. Indeed, Idaho's putting its stamp on the arts on a national level. Idaho Senator Larry Craig co-sponsored an amendment that resulted in a $5 million increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. The managing director of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival,Mark Hofflund, was nominated to serve on the National Council on the Arts that advises the NEA. Dan Harpole, the executive director of the Idaho Commission on the Arts, will soon become the president of the board for NASAA.

The conference came to a close with a September 11th gathering at the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, where NEA Chairman Gioia recited W. H. Auden's "September 1, 1939." Boise Mayor Dave Bieter also spoke, followed by Cherie Buckner and the Celebration Choir. The crowd stood and listened near the Quote Wall, 180 feet of messages from poets, presidents, philosophers, and children inscribed side by side. Anne Frank's words are here too: "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are truly good at heart."