Art Works Blog

Inside the NEA: Getting to Know Michael Killoren

Washington, DC

In October, Michael Killoren will join the NEA as our new director of Local Arts Agencies and Challenge America Fast Track. (Read our press release here.) Michael joins us from Seattle where he's been serving in Mayor Mike McGinn's cabinet as the city's director of arts and cultural affairs. To borrow a phrase from the late great Ed McMahon---heeeeeere's Michael!

NEA: In five words or less, who is Michael Killoren?

MICHAEL KILLOREN: Seriously fun, innovative, enthusiastic, doer.

NEA: What are you looking forward to most about moving to Washington, DC?

KILLOREN: I?m very excited to join a team of respected colleagues at the NEA, and I can?t wait to dive in and get to work! I?m also looking forward to exploring the vibrant arts and cultural life of our nation?s capital, and discovering the energy and history of the city.

NEA: What will you miss most about Seattle?

KILLOREN: At the top of my list are wonderful friends, fabulous colleagues, and a great, collaborative cultural community. I?ll miss seeing Mt. Rainier on a clear day, cool summers, and rain (liquid sunshine).

NEA:  What do you hope to learn while you're at the NEA?

KILLOREN: There are so many smart, talented people at the NEA. I know I?ll be learning something new every day. The opportunity to manage a national portfolio is humbling, and I will rely on the knowledge of colleagues, and new and existing networks to learn how best to serve the field. I will certainly gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the good work taking place in communities nationwide, and hope to learn more about the common threads of challenges and opportunities facing Local Arts Agencies (LAAs). 

NEA: What do you hope to accomplish while you?re at the NEA?

KILLOREN: To bring the practical voice of experience running a Local Arts Agency to the table, especially in policy initiatives, like the Our Town funding that has been proposed for the Fiscal Year 2011 budget. Chairman Landesman understands the important role LAAs play in communities, and I?m confident we can find ways to help locals leverage greater support for their important work.

NEA: What are you most proud of accomplishing during your tenure as the Director of the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs for the Seattle Mayor?s office?

KILLOREN: Working with outstanding arts commissioners, an experienced and dedicated staff, and with strong support from elected officials, highlights of accomplishments include: expanding the portfolio to reach more diverse artists and audiences, reflecting Seattle?s racial and cultural diversity, and increasing city investment in programs; streamlining and digitizing a more accessible and inclusive application and review process; sparking district-wide systemic change with the goal of providing quality arts education for every student in Seattle Public Schools; securing and managing capital funding for community cultural facilities; and using research and data to better articulate and quantify the role of arts and culture at the local level.

I also learned not to overlook any opportunity, like taking over the city?s phone system so that callers who are placed on hold hear local artists, and most recently, activating vacant storefronts with art and artists. It all adds up.

NEA: Given the types of programs and projects you?ve overseen throughout your career, how would you define public art?

KILLOREN: In our field, public art typically refers to legislation that directs public funds to integrate artworks and the ideas of artists into the built environment. To the general public, I think public art is a broad term that includes permanently sited works of art, temporary art works and installations, and ephemeral experiences in the public realm. Encountering art outside of a museum or performance hall introduces an element of surprise and delight, creating more dynamic, interesting, and humane public spaces. Art in public spaces creates authentic places, reflecting local character, history and culture, adding vitality to neighborhoods. Including artists on design teams can influence architectural elements, including future activation of public spaces and buildings.

NEA: What does the phrase ?Art Works? mean to you?

KILLOREN: Certainly in this environment, jobs in the creative sector are a top priority. Art works as an engine of community and economic development, and art works as a bridge of understanding between diverse people and cultures. Art works to anchor our sense of place, and art works to help drive other segments of the economy, such as tourism. Art works to help our children become well-rounded human beings, and art works to increase civic engagement.

NEA: What would most people be surprised to learn about you?

KILLOREN: Growing up, I played the accordion behind closed doors, long before it was considered cool.

NEA: Any last words?

I am deeply honored to continue a career in public service and the arts with the NEA, and look forward to the work ahead. Cheers!

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