Statement by National Endowment for the Arts Chair Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson on Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
“The power of visibility can never be underestimated.”
Every May, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is celebrated throughout our nation to highlight the impact made by Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) people on American life and culture. Lamentably, we have seen in our country, over the last few years, a documented rise in anti-Asian sentiment and actions. In times of great hardship and turmoil, the arts and culture sector often provides important forums for expression and sources of comfort, joy, and hope. The arts promote understanding, give voice to our humanity and help us steward our authentic and deeply rich and varied histories and narratives—often dispelling misinformation and harmful stereotypes.
In support of the White House’s theme for this celebratory month, “Building Legacy Together: Our Communities’ Journey of Strength and Resilience,” the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is honored to serve as a resource and convener for AA and NHPI communities to help reclaim their cultural narratives, break long-standing barriers, and pave the path for new generations to thrive and live artful lives.
One barrier was broken in 2014 when Dr. Jane Chu, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from China, was the first Asian American to be appointed as chair of the NEA. From 2014 to 2018, former Chair Chu worked tirelessly to support arts-based learning, expand upon America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and promote arts equity within all communities around the country.
Support for AA and NHPI artists stretches across many initiatives, fellowships, and programs at the NEA. Since 1982, our honorific programs, National Heritage Fellowships and NEA Jazz Masters Fellowships, have recognized and showcased exemplar artists. Among these artists are 2021 National Heritage fellow, Tagumpay Mendoza DeLeon, a prominent rondalla musician and teacher and 2007 NEA Jazz Master and 14-time Grammy-nominated pianist and composer—Toshiko Akiyoshi.
The NEA has long supported exemplar arts organizations that work within AA and NHPI communities, such as the Wing Luke Museum, now under the direction of Joel Barraquiel Tan, the first Filipino executive director in the museum’s history. With more than 26 AA and NHPI countries of origin, the museum’s core mission is to bolster community empowerment and ownership. Committed to telling diverse and authentic stories about Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders to the world, Wing Luke Museum staff work with community members to determine vision and themes for exhibitions and programming.
Through our Literary Fellowships, we have proudly supported the talents and achievements of various AA and NHPI poets, authors, and translators such as Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Rachel Heng, Asako Serizawa, Shruti Swamy, and Grace Talusan. Our 2019 fellow and poet—Chen Chen—judged students’ original poems for the 2022 Poetry Ourselves competition. This is only a small snapshot of the AA and NHPI artists who use their time, talent, and innovation to inspire us all through their craft.
Recently, the NEA looked at issues of equity and access to the arts for AA and NHPI communities in its magazine American Artscape. We captured how artists such as Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, with her “I Still Believe In Our City” art initiative in New York, addresses racism against Asian Americans. The magazine also shined a light on arts organizations such as PA‘I Foundation in Hawai‘i and White Snake Projects in Massachusetts that present publics with a wide range of cultural viewpoints in our American landscape.
AA and NHPI experiences are more than one story, one journey, or one person that represent a community—AA and NHPI voices and origins are sewn deeply into the fabric of America. The NEA is honored to help showcase and support many of the AA and NHPI untold stories, reimagined characters, stellar artists, and arts organizations that change our world for the better.
To continue this celebration, please join us at arts.gov and our social media channels as the NEA highlights AA and NHPI Heritage Month and shares more stories about AA and NHPI artists and arts organizations on our blog and weekly podcast.