Jane Chu, the nation’s top arts leader, was in New Hampshire this week.
Chu is chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. Her visit to the Granite State comes as the organization celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
NHPR Morning Edition producer Michael Brindley caught up with Chu during her visit to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester.
As you’re going around talking to people, what are you learning about the arts here in New Hampshire?
Some of the key things that we’ve found in just the few hours we’ve been here are that people are really seeing how arts are relevant to their lives and they find meaning in them. So the arts aren’t off in a corner by themselves, they’re not in a silo by themselves; they’re not just for one group of people and not for the other.
People are understanding in New Hampshire how much the arts touch their everyday lives. The other thing we’re seeing is that the arts are authentic, and so really to be able to express themselves through the arts in a very authentic way is meaningful here.
You’re also doing a lot of traveling around the country, as well. Do you see different arts communities in different parts of the country?
Not only do we see different types of arts in communities across the nation, we have a saying that when you see a community, you’ve only seen one, and that’s what’s so great about getting to see all the different activities in the arts and the programs. Because the arts at the heart of this are a form of being able to identify characteristics that belong to that community and what makes them so special and different from another community which may have different characteristics and yet the arts are at the heart of it. Arts have the power to do that.
You’re in the heart of the First-in-the-Nation primary state. What would you want to hear from potential presidential candidates when it comes to the arts?
Certainly an understanding that the arts can be so transformative for individuals as well as communities, and in so many different ways. Whether it’s economic vitality and jobs which we’ve shown and continued to show through transformation of learning new subjects, through the appreciation of arts itself and through an understanding that it really instills spirit hope and a quality of life.
You’ve talked about the growth of people participating in the arts through electronic media. How does your organization adjust to that kind of trend?
The National Endowment for the Arts because it does exist to make sure all Americans have the opportunity to be engaged in the arts. When we find through our research how people participate in the arts, such as our recent findings where we discovered that three quarters of all American adults, that’s about 167 million people, participate in the arts first through an electronic media.
We want to make sure that we’re relevant so we look at our grant programs, and for example if we’ve had radio and television as a grant program for our media arts area we now have included the creation of digital content as a way to participate because we know we have to be relevant as well.
The NEA is celebrating 50 years this year. Looking ahead to the next 50 years, what do you see as the big challenges for the arts?
We do celebrate the 50 years for the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the next 50 years, and the greatest opportunity that we have is to make sure that people understand the arts are not by themselves and they are not in a specific category unrelated to the rest of our lives. That they infuse our lives every day. Look around us. Look at our designs, look at our clothes, look at our smart phones, look at our cars, and everything else we touch. When people really understand how the arts permeate our lives on a daily basis, that’s an opportunity to really celebrate the arts and say wait a minute we’ve got to have arts.