National Endowment for the Arts Chair Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson met with Oregon arts leaders this week to discuss the need for more access to the arts in the state.
Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici hosted the Listening and Learning Tour.
“I planned this visit to showcase all the work we’re doing and to have a conversation with the community about how we can promote equity, engagement, especially in more rural communities,” Bonamici said.
The NEA provides funding to various arts organizations across the country through the federal government.
Over the past five years, the NEA has awarded more than $12 million in federal grants to strengthen Oregon’s arts and cultural institutions.
Nominated by President Joe Biden and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2021, Jackson serves as NEA’s 13th chair and the nation’s first chair of black and Mexican descent.
Prior to his current tenure, Jackson spent 30 years as an arts advocate, most recently as a professor at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
“If we’re thinking about building healthy, opportunity-rich communities where all people can thrive, we’re stuck unless we figure out how to integrate the arts,” Jackson said. “So it’s best to figure out how to do that.”
Visits to the Patricia Reeser Center for the Arts in Beaverton and the performing arts theater Bag and Baggage Productions in Hillsboro.
But Dr. Jackson was quick to point out that he was particularly inspired by a visit to Beaverton’s Arts and Communication Magnet Academy (ACMA).
“To see students so confident and on their way to something fantastic, be it in the arts or outside of the arts, trained in a way where their creativity is nurtured, their imaginations expanded and their sense of potential. True. It’s huge.”
Nevertheless, Jackson acknowledges the potential for challenges even in a model creative campus like ACMA.
“There’s a waiting list. Immediately I wanted to know how many schools like this are around the country. How accessible are they to all kids, especially underserved communities that need this kind of experience more?” Jackson said.
Geography, Congresswoman Bonamici explained, also continues to be an issue for families living in more rural areas of the state. Regular visits to local museums or galleries aren’t always easy.
“Children often do not have access to schools. Some do and some don’t. Adults often find they can’t get into the industry.”
Bonamici also says that arts education as a whole is often overlooked in favor of more practical disciplines like math and science.
“People just don’t understand the benefits. They think ‘Why do we need art? Most people won’t be artists.'” she says. “They don’t realize that research has shown that the arts improve other disciplines as well.”
To potentially address this problem, Bonamici introduced the Arts Education for All Act, which supports arts education for children in grades K-12 and in juvenile justice programs.
“When all students have access to the arts, it closes the gaps. Even if they are not artists, they can learn about empathy, storytelling and the importance of understanding each other,” she says.
The last stop on the learning tour was at the Portland Art Museum’s “Perspectives” exhibit, where art and civic leaders discussed the importance of expanding opportunities for artists of color, especially those impacted by the pandemic.
“Making sure we’re connecting people with great opportunities and support and making sure artists get paid for their work,” Bonamici said.
“We have huge challenges ahead of us. We need creative people to help us find solutions to overcome these challenges. Art can help with that, but also help us heal.”