Art Works Blog

New Kid on the Block

March 30, 2010
Washington, DC

On Friday, Chairman Rocco Landesman administered the oath of office to Irvin Mayfield as he became the newest member of the National Council on the Arts. Photo by Kathy Plowitz-Worden

Grammy-winnning New Orleans jazz musician Irvin Mayfield may be new to the National Council on the Arts, but he?s definitely no newbie when it comes to supporting arts and culture in New Orleans and beyond. When he?s not busy as the artistic director (and founder) of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Mayfield directs and teaches at the New Orleans Jazz Institute at the University of New Orleans, hosts a radio talk show, and serves as Chairman of the New Orleans Public Library, just to name a few of the many items on his calendar.  Mayfield wrapped up his inaugural National Council on the Arts (NCA) meeting by sharing a few thoughts on joining the NCA and working with the Arts Endowment.

One of my students at the University of New Orleans asked me what did I think was a bigger honor?winning a Grammy award back in February or being on the NEA?s National Council on the Arts. I said working with the NEA because the opportunity to really be with people, to touch people, to be part of a movement to support the entire spectrum of the arts is amazing, and it adds a tremendous amount of value. I?m not trying to minimize the Grammy award, but awards are for people who?ve done stuff. Being part of civic work is for people who are doing stuff, and I always want to stay on the side of doing rather than having done.

One of the NEA programs I?m really excited about is the Mayors? Institute on City Design. The reason I think that?s important is I think the NEA chairman as well as the president recognize that the arts have to be at the beginning of policy, inside of it. And I love the fact that we?re on both wings of the White House now, and I think that this president is already starting to accomplish having arts be at the start of policy. Often arts have been an afterthought once all the stuff has been done and all the money?s gone and then they say?hey, what about the arts thing, let?s see if we can throw it a few pennies. I guess what I?m saying is the arts have an opportunity to be part of the conception of the idea. . . . and I think the mayors are the biggest, most important piece of that. I think that if we get every mayor to understand that the arts are a tool to rebuild---like we?re doing in New Orleans---to rebuild, to look forward, to refresh, to reenergize their cities from architecture to arts education to dance to symphony music, that?s a real opportunity we have.

I?m excited and I?m really here to learn. Being Chairman of the Board of the New Orleans Pubic Library, I?ve come to learn that lifelong learning is an important aspect of life. So I don?t have all the answers, the NEA doesn?t have all the answers, but we are invested in making sure that we can find out the answers at the time that the answers become available.

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