Maria Rosario Jackson was recently nominated to chair the National Endowment for the Arts!! She joined our board of directors 5 years ago. She and I met actually met back in the ‘90s based on a shared interest in the field of community building. An urban planner by training, Maria was at the time working in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Center of the Urban Institute (UI) in DC. Her passion for the role of culture in promoting vitality in neighborhoods was evident back then and at UI, she developed a program devoted to research in this arena. She was a huge influence on the development of LA Commons. I recall attending convenings at the Urban Institute at which she invited folks who were thinking about and doing work in the arts in communities field to come and share ideas and best practices.
After 20 years at UI, she moved back to LA. Funny story -- she and I were hanging out in Chinatown one day and a police car drove up near where we were walking. Out jumps her old high school boyfriend, a bit starry-eyed upon seeing Maria. Well, guess what, that chance encounter led to marriage and gave her a reason to come home. And, of course, when she did, it was natural that she would join our board.
Maria has added so much to our organization from her perch as a standout leader in the field, playing roles in many contexts - Professor at Arizona State University, Senior Advisor at the Kresge Foundation, member National Council on the Arts, and the list goes on/ Her influence is deep and broad. For example, she was a key player in the development of LA County's nationally lauded Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative. She was one of the initial co-chairs, a role that I have recently stepped into, by the way.
If confirmed as NEA. chair, she will be running an independent federal agency with a $167 million annual budget whose funding and support give Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the Arts Endowment supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America.
People from around the country have reacted positively to the news. Steven Tepper, dean of ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and Arts, where Maria is an Institute Professor said, “She is one of our nation’s most profound thinkers around how arts and design can be deployed to create healthier and more equitable communities.” Colleagues are excited that she will bring a public policy lens to one of the nation’s top arts jobs. We are excited because we know in her new role she will work to ensure arts equity for all Americans.