Art Works Blog

Catching Up with #NEAJaneChu

“The arts belong to us all, and there is a menu of options of ways to be involved in the arts. That's what's so great about the arts.” – Jane Chu

Jane Chu has had a busy August making her first official Art Works visits as NEA Chair. Starting close to home, Jane visited the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at the Walter Reed National Military Center, to get an up-close look at the NEA/Walter Reed Healing Arts Partnership, and also Dance Place, a DC-based NEA grantee, to take a look at their new community space. On Monday, August 18, Jane headed north to Providence, Rhode Island, for a busy itinerary hosted by Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed. During her Rhode Island trip, Jane not only visited a number of local arts organizations with Senator Reed, including the Rhode Island School of Design, the Design Exchange Mill, and the Rhode Island Philarmonic and Music School, but she also visited an NEA Our Town project in Pawtucket, and met with local artists and other creative professionals at several stops during the day. Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien, and Rhode Island Arts Council Executive Director Randall Rosenbaum also participated throughout the day.
Here in her own words are Jane’s reflections from her August visits.
On why it’s important to nurture a variety of individual art forms
What I loved about my travels this past month was that I saw such a diverse array of examples, everything from dance to music performance to visual arts. I saw the way the arts helped our military service members, and the way the arts sparked vitality in the community. I saw the passion within the artists themselves. These artists and arts organizations were engaged with such different genres and different types of art, and that is an important message to get to the American people. The arts belong to us all, and there is a menu of options of ways to be involved in the arts. That's what's so great about the arts. That menu of options can be matched with what we like individually or collectively. I think the arts provide that diversity of ways to be engaged better than most other fields.
On the arts and healing
I can personally speak about the power of the arts to heal from my own personal example. I started taking piano lessons when I was a child at eight years old. When my father died of cancer when I was at nine, I did not have enough of a vocabulary as a nine-year-old to be able to articulate my grief at the loss of a parent. I particularly did not have the level of vocabulary because while I spoke English, as Chinese immigrants my parents spoke Mandarin. So music for me became the only form of expression that was able to soothe me. It was a form of expression that I could identify with and feel healed by regardless of the type of music. It didn't necessarily have to be a soothing type of music. There was just something about it that was whole and allowed me to feel like I had a sense of belonging.
I believe there’s a similarity to what I saw in the NICOE experience with what I felt as a young child trying to find a way to express myself. The creative arts therapies, the different art disciplines that they use to help our military service members who have been affected by TBI or other psychological health issues, there's something that reaches to them that allows them to have another avenue of expression for their experiences and provides them with a sense of belonging. When I say a sense of belonging, I also mean a sense of healing.
On why arts organizations matter to communities
The arts are such a strong way of connecting people, bringing people together, making them aware of their own feelings because the arts have the power to draw out our feelings and help us understand ourselves. The arts should not be seen as standing off by themselves and not interacting with the rest of our society. It's hardly that at all, in fact, it's the opposite. The arts are infused in every aspect of our lives, and part of my job is to help all of us understand that and make us very aware that the arts are everywhere.
Every time I talked with artists and arts people on this trip I could sense and feel their passion and that passion is far deeper than just an explanation of something, or a demonstration. When you couple meaning with your activity, it becomes far more powerful. I want artists and arts organizations to understand the value they bring when they share their art to the whole community. It's a strong impact.
I want to make sure that arts organizations truly understand how valued they are in their ability to make an impact on individuals and in communities. Artists and people who work for arts organizations are creative professionals and what they're doing is so important to even aspects of the community that have not been traditionally seen as arts-related. I want us to all understand that the arts are a public good for us. We all benefit by being engaged with the arts on so many levels. The arts bring out an understanding of ourselves and they help revitalize and bring communities together. The arts play a strong role in the economy and they help in human development. The arts help create creative and innovative thinkers, and they help us to synthesize different perspectives at once. The arts are one of our best avenues for expression because we don’t have to think “either/or.” We can take in multiple concepts at once. 

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