Statement by National Endowment for the Arts Chair Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson on Black History Month

As the nation recognizes Black History Month, it is an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of Black artists to the collective tapestry of our nation.

Historian Carter G. Woodson is credited with the genesis of Black History Month in the early 1900s. In 1926, he helped establish National Black History Week that occurred during the second week of February to coincide with the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In 1976, this transformed into Black History Month, which, like the preceding commemorations, is highlighted by community activities including history lessons, observations about our current conditions, and diverse ways of celebrating past and present Black achievement.

It is an honor to join President Biden and Vice President Harris in marking Black History Month 2022 in my role as the first African American and Mexican American woman to be appointed as chair of the NEA. This past year has continued to be very challenging as the pandemic has affected us all and exacerbated pre-existing inequities. With the administration’s fierce commitment to racial equity across the whole of government, this year’s Black History Month offers unique opportunities to pay tribute, heal, and learn.

As a child, my parents encouraged me to pursue the arts to learn more about our origins and to be aware of our similarities, our differences, and our shared humanity with other people. They showed me that artists, heritage holders, and culture keepers help root us in the rich soil that is our heritage, so that we can stand tall, sure-footed, proud, joyful, mindful of our lineage of creativity, and confident in our ability to help shape our world. Those are the values that I have brought to my professional life and to the NEA.

The work of the NEA and the need for arts and creativity are more important now than ever. In addition to serving as a much-needed economic engine in so many Black communities and elsewhere, arts and creativity are core to what it takes to heal our nation and ourselves.

During Black History Month and throughout the year, the NEA will highlight the accomplishments of Black artists as well as arts organizations, performances, and works that provide hope and well-being in our communities. From NEA grantmaking that supports diverse communities all over the country to the students inspired by Poetry Out Loud to the honorees of the NEA Jazz Masters and National Heritage Fellowships, these efforts demonstrate that culture and creativity are core to us reaching our nation’s full potential.

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