Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, NEA Chair
Sending you warm greetings and best wishes of the season from the National Endowment for the Arts!
The past year has been one of new, exciting, and impactful activities for the agency, and for arts in the country in general. Organizations across the country are developing new ways of working as we all adjust to changing realities as a result of the pandemic, evolutions in technology, as well as long-standing challenges and opportunities facing the cultural field.
With increasing recognition of the roles the arts can play in helping us achieve the promise of our nation, we have witnessed growing momentum around President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting the Arts, the Humanities, and Museum and Library Services. The executive order spurs the integration of arts and culture across the federal government, making art more accessible to people from underserved communities, elevating new voices through the arts and humanities, and expanding opportunities for artists and scholars.
That Executive Order also re-established the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), which met in person for the first time this fall. Led by Executive Director Tsione Wolde-Michael and committee co-chairs Bruce Cohen and Lady Gaga, the committee discussed some of the ways that all the cultural agencies—NEA, National Endowment for the Humanities, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and PCAH—can advance the order’s directives. In this pivotal moment, there is a growing recognition that the arts reveal new ideas, unlock opportunities, and help us confront the many challenges before us.
We are building on this momentum to provide platforms for future-of-the-field conversations and planning efforts. For example, the NEA, along with PCAH, is exploring ways we can continue conversations about long term recovery and sustainability of the nonprofit theater in America. We also have ongoing engagement with state arts agencies, regional arts organizations, local arts agencies, and grantees to better understand and address current issues.
In an effort to advance important national issues and help create opportunities for artists and cultural organizations to participate in that work, on October 17, 2023, the NEA and White House Domestic Policy Council co-hosted a convening to further discuss the whole-of-government approach to arts and culture suggested by the Biden Executive Order. Administration officials across sectors—including health, transportation, infrastructure, education, environmental protection, emergency preparedness, and national service—discussed ways the arts and culture contribute to goals such as equitable community engagement, social connectedness, mental health, and climate resilience in rural and urban settings. Participants discussed ideas to strengthen the intersections of the arts and other sectors while continuing to build clear pathways for artists and arts organizations.
Building on the energy of that meeting and appreciating how other sectors are turning to the arts for creative solutions and new approaches to address community issues, the NEA and White House Domestic Policy Council are co-hosting a first-of-its-kind public convening on January 30, 2024, called “Healing, Bridging, Thriving: A Summit on Arts and Culture in our Communities.”
This convening reflects one of my core beliefs, that the arts don’t exist in isolation. It will bring together leaders from across sectors, including government officials; policymakers; artists; arts advocates; academics; philanthropic, labor, and community leaders; and the public to explore how the arts can contribute to health and well-being, animate and strengthen physical spaces, fuel our democracy, and drive equitable outcomes for communities across this country. We encourage everyone to tune in online at arts.gov.
Advancing this work will create more opportunities for people to live artful lives—a concept I feel strongly is a key element of equity, justice, and a healthy existence. When the agency released its Equity Action Plan in 2022, it noted that underserved communities frequently report lower rates of arts participation than other groups, despite many underserved groups having rich histories and cultures.
Recently, the NEA—in partnership with South Arts and in collaboration with the five other regional arts organizations—launched a new pilot grant program, ArtsHERE. This program will support and strengthen nonprofit organizations that have demonstrated consistent arts and cultural engagement with underserved communities. These organizations are vital in helping to make sure that all people throughout our nation have the opportunity to participate in the arts. I am particularly excited that this initiative will also be a learning endeavor—providing opportunities for grantees to network with one another and for us to learn and share what these organizations need to best do their work.
This past year we have started to implement the plans put into place during my first year as chair of the NEA, but we know there is still much more to do. The pandemic took great toll on the arts and cultural sector, and, already grappling with these immense challenges, it requires support. The health of the arts sector has implications for the well-being and health of our nation. We are here to work alongside you as we all innovate, get unstuck, dream big together, and truly make a difference.
Wishing you all a happy and artful 2024!