Transcript – Episode 8

Man 1:  This podcast is a project of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a State agency committed to building creative communities and inspiring creative minds.

Jane Chu:  I’m passionate when we see that the arts– there are entry points to the arts on so many different levels.  Because we really are moving this world into a giant mashup, and so gone are the days where it was this project over there and that project over here, and they didn’t meet.

Anita Walker:  I’m Anita Walker, and I’m sitting here with the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Jane Chu, who is in Boston looking around at what works in Massachusetts, and welcome to our wonderful commonwealth.

Jane Chu:  Thanks so much.  It’s great to be here.

Anita Walker:  So I know you’ve been looking around Boston today and you’ve been looking around the country since you’ve taken over the reins of the National Endowment for the Arts, and so start by telling me what’s working in America?

Jane Chu:  Well, the arts are thriving in America.  There are so many different things going on.  But when you’ve seen one community, you’ve really seen only one, and that’s because each community has found its way to make itself distinctive and honoring the characteristics of that community, and the arts are at the heart of that.  Because it’s such a great form of self-expression and a way of showing what’s working.  So in Boston, that’s absolutely the case.

Anita Walker:  Anything in specific that leaped out at you today, as you were on your tour?

Jane Chu:  Sure.  Well, there are a couple of things I was very impressed with, in particular, and one is that Boston has such a long established history, and in many cases, of being a community long before many other communities were ever born.  And so you have all these long established traditions that you can honor, and at the same time, they’re figuring out how to be able to move forward, and that’s a hard thing to do for some communities.  But Boston is really doing a great job of figuring that out and, I mean, the arts are at the heart of that.  The other piece that I’m very impressed with is that as we’ve moved through the community, it’s been very clear that those who are arts providers and those who are supporting the infrastructure and a way for the arts to thrive have been really paying attention, had their ear to the ground on what is meaningful to Bostonians, to the neighborhoods.  So this is not an approach where they’re coming in and saying, “We should do this in the arts and we should do that,” without listening to what is meaningful, and that’s very impressive.

Anita Walker:  And that’s what you’re doing.  You’re doing a lot of listening here in Massachusetts, and elsewhere in the country.  And you’ve been in your position, what, about eight months now, I think, and I’m sure what you’re doing now is you’re sort of crafting what your legacy is going to be, what your initiatives are going to be.  Can you talk a little bit about where you’re going to be leading the NEA and leading the arts community in America?

Jane Chu:  Well, we will certainly do some projects and we’ll celebrate and launch our 50th anniversary, which is this fall.  We’ll do a yearlong series of programs and events in celebration of the 50th, celebrating not only what has happened in the arts over the past 50 years and the role of the NEA, but moving forward, what do the arts look like in the next 50 and what are some of the key roles for the National Endowment for the Arts?  But having said that, there’s another layer that it’s very important to me that we send out the message that we’re shaping the arts in America together.  That the arts are not just off by themselves in a corner.  That it’s not just about the arts.  Some people participate in the arts can and others cannot.  It’s really about how the arts infuse our everyday lives and provide that value and the meaning and the connections and the creativity and the innovation.  So what we can do to honor that and see and make sure people understand that, even other sectors, non-art sectors.  That paradigm is what we’re focused on, and if that paradigm can continue to expand in having people understand how the arts are at the center of our lives, they add a dimension to our lives in all that we do, I’m going to declare success.

Anita Walker:  Of course, needless to say, we’d like to see a more robust public investment in the arts, and I know that’s a big part of what your job is.  But are you going to be launching any new big ideas?

Jane Chu:  Well, indeed, and we’ll have that unfold, in terms of the 50th anniversary in the fall.  We’ll have some events.  We’ll have some initiatives that we’re focused on that celebrate creativity.  So there will be some– you know, I dreamed of being able to understand the system of how art not only happens, but how creativity happens and where it happens.  So there’ll be an ability to launch a visual of how creativity happens, where it happens, how is creativity financed, because we want to be at the table when conversations are happening about creativity.  We see that other sectors are looking– you know, I remember a conference board report of a few years ago that said that one of the top five characteristics in employers looking to hire is our creativity and innovation.  We’re all about creativity and innovation.  We want to be at the table.  We want to make sure that– so to be able to see visually and provide that is actually a key way of communicating that that’s what we’re all about.  We’ll be able to celebrate and look at what are the key pieces in an infrastructure that helps the arts thrive?  You know, are there spaces available?  What about the artwork markets, the networks, and how we play a role in that?  So that’s a large infrastructure to pay attention to, and you’ll start seeing things like that unfold.

Anita Walker:  So it sounds like you’re going to be doing a lot of inventorying, analysis, understanding sort of the ecology and the mechanisms of the sector as it is.  Are there any particular areas though that you personally are passionate about or motivated around?  Whether it’s youth development, whether it’s place making, which we spent a lot of time talking about today.  What’s your sweet spot?

Jane Chu:  I’m passionate when we see that the arts– there are entry points to the arts on so many different levels.  Because we really are moving this world into a giant mashup, and so gone are the days where it was this project over there and that project over here, and they didn’t meet.  But I’m passionate about connections and connecting.  So, again, it’s not about force fitting everybody to be alike.  It is about figuring how do I embody a mashup?  I mean, you know, my parents were from China.  I’m from Oklahoma and grew up in Arkansas, and figuring out how to navigate through the different perspectives, and honoring them without force fitting.  But the arts do  that so well, and so I’m passionate about connections.  That’s a big– if you say, “What’s a big deal,” to me personally, that’s where I get a lot of energy.  I’m very comfortable in multiple perspectives at the same time.  I’m very comfortable in ambiguity.  The arts are a great overlay for that.  They get to honor all of this at the same time, and the projects and the programs that do that.  Let’s just talk about our place– I mean, our town in creative place making alone.  Where you start seeing these arts projects that bring together people in the sector who may not have necessarily worked together in the past.  You know, I’ve seen projects across the country where there’s hospitals and utility companies coming together around an arts based project.  That’s very satisfying to see the community together as a result.

Anita Walker:  Making connections.  We’re talking about what works in the arts across America with Jane Chu.  Thank you very much.

Jane Chu:  Thank you very much.

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