Art Works Blog

Postcard from Washington State

May 19, 2010
Washington, DC

Here I am with Washington Congressman Norm Dicks (left) and Charles Wright Academy student Jennifer Lee (3rd from right) and her family. On Friday night Congressman Dicks announced that Jennifer is the 2010 Congressional Art Competition winner for Washington's sixth district. Her winning artwork will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol.

By Rocco Landesman

Last week I had a great trip to Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. I got to spend a whole day with Norm Dicks who represents the state?s sixth district, which includes Tacoma. He?s an amazing person and an amazing congressman. He?s totally committed to his constituents and to his home district. He?s very committed to the arts. He understands how arts work as an economic engine and he values the arts for their own sake. His passion for the arts is very clear, and I shudder to think where the NEA or the arts in general in this country would be without Norm Dicks.

Our first stop in Tacoma was the Museum of Glass, which is incredible. There?s no place like it in the country; it?s probably the premier glassblowing facility in the world. People come from all over the world to make glass there, so much so that there?s an auditorium where an audience sits and watches the glass being made and it?s like a performance. It?s unusual in that there?s both a museum and a glassblowing works together in the same building, and I think it?s a fantastic example of how art really does work. Visiting the glass museum was one of the highlights of my time here at the NEA so far.

In Tacoma, I also toured the Pantages Theater and the Tacoma Art Museum, both of which were superb. The Tacoma Art Museum is one of the oldest museums in the state, and one of its treasures is an amazing collection of work by the glass artist Dale Chihuly, a Tacoma native. The Pantages Theater is an old theater that?s been refurbished and restored. It?s a gorgeous theater with an incredible skylight that they had to take six coats of paint off of to be able to view and a great example of how creative reuse and preservation and renovation can jumpstart community development. The Pantages is used as a theater, a performing arts space, a concert hall---there?s any number of uses for it.

In both Seattle and Tacoma, I met with the arts stakeholders in the community. In Seattle, one of my hosts was Susan Coliton of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, and she?s very plugged into all of the arts activites there.  Of course there are things I want to say to each community that I visit, but in both cities they also had important things to say to me. I think one of the things the arts community wanted to communicate is that they?re persevering through very difficult times. They?re still there. They?re still working. I think they wanted to reinforce our message---which I think is resonating everywhere---that the arts and arts organizations are part of the real economy. And to the extent that the NEA has a spotlight to shine on what they?re doing, we wanted to do that. These organizations are very resilient, and you really see that during times like this.

I always think about what lessons there are from each of these visits. The lesson from Seattle and Tacoma is for arts organizations to work together, to become one voice in the community that will greatly increase their leverage and effect. And to really shift into survival mode, and hang in there until times get better. I think they?re doing that in Seattle and Tacoma without a doubt.

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