Jane Chu was confirmed Thursday by the U.S. Senate as the new chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Here’s why you should care. Idaho is a state where people love their arts and arts groups, from community and professional theaters to museums and literary enterprises. The NEA funds some Idaho arts groups directly, but mostly passes money through the Idaho Commission on the Arts, which then funnels it to individual artists and groups through grants. The ICA annually receives between $600,000 and $900,000 from the NEA.
During the past 10 years Idaho has enjoyed close relationships with the past two chairman — poet Dana Goia and Broadway producer Rocco Landesman. Both traveled to Idaho multiple times to experience the arts in a rural American cultural outpost; both later said they learned the importance of arts funding in rural states specifically by visiting Idaho.
Building that kind of relationship is key to continued support from the NEA.
“We’re a rural state with a small population that is far flung across a vast landscape,” says Michael Faison, director of the Idaho Commission on the Arts. “People don’t think of a thriving arts community in this geography — and yet there is a vital one that both chairmen were thrilled to support.” Faison hopes to continue that kind of relationship with Chu. Once she assumes the office, she likely will visit Idaho next year.
Idaho has other ties to the NEA. It plays a part in actually funding the NEA through Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who is a ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee that funds the NEA. Former U.S. Sen. Jim McClure, R-Idaho, sat on the Kennedy Center's board, and his wife, Louise, was the first Idahoan to be on the National Council. Idaho Shakespeare Festival managing director and ICA chairman Mark Hofflund also served on the National Council.
A daughter of Chinese immigrants, pianist and arts administrator now rises to the top arts office in the country. Chu is the president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Mo. She oversaw the $413 million campaign that built the center, which is the performance home to Kansas City Ballet, Kansas City Symphony and Lyric Opera of Kansas City.
Congress established the NEA in 1965. It has since awarded $4 billion to state arts agencies, such as the Idaho Commission on the Arts, individual artists and arts groups. The chairman is appointed by the president and confirmed by Congress.