Biden’s Pick to Lead N.E.A. Sees Culture as a Community Building Tool

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Maria Rosario Jackson, a veteran arts administrator with a background in urban planning, is recognized as an expert in using culture to fuel economic development.

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President Joseph R. New candidate to lead Biden Jr. National Endowment for the Arts is a veteran arts administrator and tenured professor at Arizona State University with a background in urban planning and a history of embracing the importance of the arts at the neighborhood level.


Named, Maria Rosario Jackson, is a recognized expert in creative space creation, a process that leverages art, culture, and design to fuel economic growth in communities and foster social change. Colleagues said she would bring a public policy lens to one of the nation’s top art jobs.

“He is one of our nation’s most profound thinkers about how art and design can be deployed to create healthier and more equitable communities,” said Steven Tepper, dean of Arizona State’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, where Jackson is on the faculty, said Thursday in an email.

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To take on the role of NEA president, Jackson will run an agency that has a modest $167 million annual budget compared to other agencies, but has nonetheless been a target for conservatives, who have sought to portray it as a sponsor of unnecessary. has demanded. , elitist programming was mainly attended by the wealthy.

The agency has contested that portrayal, insisting that in its grants – its primary function – it has financed art that attracts people across the income spectrum and noting that it supports bipartisan support within Congress. has survived in large part because of

If confirmed by the Senate, Jackson would be the first African American and Mexican American in the country to lead the arts endowment.

“Our arts, culture and creativity are some of our nation’s most valuable resources,” Jackson said in a statement announcing his appointment this week. “They are evidence of our humanity, our ability to learn from our tested experience, and our ability to imagine and innovate.”

His approach seems in line with President Biden’s embrace of the arts for his ability to stimulate economic growth, a strategy seen during his years in the Senate and as vice president.

Rip Rapson, president and chief executive of the Craze Foundation, a grant-giving organization based in Metro Detroit, said Jackson, who has advised the foundation’s arts and culture program since 2012, is an ideal leader for the endowment.

“He has an incredible combination of profound intellectual ability and real-life experience,” he said in a phone conversation on Thursday. “To my mind, the fact that she is both a researcher, a grantmaker, and a network producer makes her unique among endowment chairs.”

The NEA has been targeted by some conservatives for decades. The Trump administration tried unsuccessfully to do away with the endowment as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities, but both agencies have actually seen their funding increase in recent years.

The cultural sector is still struggling to get out of the pandemic and the country has one of the highest unemployment rates. For example, New York lost two-thirds of its jobs in the arts, entertainment and entertainment in the past year, according to the state comptroller’s office.

Mary Anne Carter, who has served as endowment chair under former President Trump, has said the sector is in great need of additional funding that has not been nearly met by the $75 million in coronavirus relief grants by the NEA distributed last year Was.

For the 2022 fiscal year, President Biden has proposed increasing the budget for the arts endowment by 20 percent to $201 million. If approved by Congress, it would be the largest increase — in dollar terms — in the organization’s history, the agency said.

Jackson, who was born and raised in South Los Angeles, earned a doctorate in urban planning from the University of California, Los Angeles and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Southern California.

In a 2007 article for the Urban Institute, she stated that her African American and Mexican parents used the arts of their ethnic groups to teach her history that they knew would not be exposed in the classroom. Her father used to tell blues songs about migration, and her mother showed her Diego Rivera murals.

He spent nearly 20 years at the Institute, a public policy research organization based in Washington, DC, where he led research on the importance of arts and culture to healthy communities, as well as systems of support for artists and creative workers.

“Seek ingenuity and creativity,” she wrote in a 2007 article on why the arts are important to communities. “It may not be what’s most popular in the media. It may not fit the mold of what it takes to build a world-class city. Whether it’s immigrants’ music, family or religious traditions, or street culture, Cultural vitality may be outside the standards of ‘high’ art or ‘sophisticated’ art, but it is important.”

In 2013, President Obama appointed Jackson to the National Council on the Arts, which advises the president of the arts endowment. Four years later, she began teaching at Arizona State, where, in addition to her position at the school’s Institute of Art and Design, she also holds an appointment at its College of Public Service and Policy.

Rapson of the Craze Foundation noted that Jackson’s community-focused background and apolitical nature made him a far cry from the typical Washington bureaucrat.

“Maria is such an incredibly warm, curious, caring, sympathetic soul that I must admit that it is almost hard to imagine her in government service,” he said. “Except I think she’s exactly the kind of person we need in government service.”

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