Meet Dr. Maria Rosario: The First-Ever African American To Lead The National Endowment For Arts

by Duchess Magazine
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Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson is the 13th chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

She boasts of extensive expertise in comprehensive community revitalization, systems change, the dynamics of race and ethnicity and the roles of and arts and culture in communities.

The National Endowment for the Arts established by Congress in 1965 is the independent federal agency that helps fund and support Americans to participate in the arts and develop their creative capacities, through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, thereby supporting arts learning, affirming and celebrating America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and promoting equal access to the arts in every community across America.

Dr. Jackson issued the following statement upon confirmation in 2021:

“I am honored to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts and excited to build on the arts endowment’s strong work to serve all communities across our nation through the power of the arts.

Thank you to President Biden for this once in a lifetime opportunity, and to Committee Chair Patty Murray, Ranking Member Richard Burr, Senators, and staff of the Senate, for their guidance in the nomination process. I will lead the NEA with dedication to inclusivity, collaboration, and with the recognition that art, culture, and creativity are core to us reaching our full potential as a nation.

My commitment to the arts began at home. My father, who retired from the U.S. Postal Service, and my mother, who worked for Los Angeles Unified School District, looked to the arts to teach my brother and me about the richness of our cultures. They wanted us to be proud of our origins and curious about the histories, struggles, and aspirations of other people, aware of our similarities, our differences, and our shared humanity. I have brought those same values to the work I have done throughout my career as a professor, researcher, board member, advisor, and administrator committed to understanding and advancing how arts and culture help build healthy, opportunity-rich communities.

The work of the NEA and the need for arts and creativity are more important now than ever. In addition to serving as an economic engine, arts and creativity are core to what it takes to heal our nation, our communities, and ourselves. The historic American Rescue Plan investment in the arts, together with the longstanding work of the NEA, is an enormous responsibility and opportunity. The NEA plays a crucial role in helping to provide funds and other resources needed for the sector to recover, retool, and reopen. The agency also has the opportunity and responsibility to deepen and expand its already purposeful efforts to reach communities who have been traditionally underserved.

In my term as NEA chair, I look forward to working with Congress, state and local arts leaders, and fellow members of the National Council on the Arts. I look forward to working with arts communities and people in intersecting fields such as community development and public health across our nation to ensure access to the resources and experiences all Americans need to live healthy, robust, meaningful, and creative lives.”

A veteran in the arts with almost 20 years at the Urban Institute, a public policy research organization based in Washington, D.C. where she was a senior research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center and founding director of UI’s Culture, Creativity and Communities Program, at UI, she notably led pioneering research on arts and culture indicators, measuring cultural vitality, the role of arts and culture in community revitalization, development of art spaces, and support systems for artists. She also was a senior researcher on studies of public housing programs, use of urban parks, handgun violence prevention and teacher training initiatives for urban schools.

Dr. Jackson earned a Ph.D. in Urban Planning from the University of California, Los Angeles and a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Southern California.

“Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson’s deep understanding of the role that arts and culture play throughout our communities gives her great insight to navigate these challenging times,” said Acting Chair Ann Eilers, who has been serving in the role since January 2021. “As a longtime member of the National Council on the Arts, her knowledge of the agency will guide a smooth transition into her new role as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. On behalf of the entire NEA staff, I look forward to welcoming Dr. Jackson as our new chair.”

“With the confirmation of Maria Rosario Jackson as the chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation will be made more beautiful and its creative spirit more empowered,” said Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, where Dr. Jackson is a professor at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “Art is our reflection of who we are and who we want to be and Dr. Jackson will lead us all to find and express that beauty and to enhance and broaden that creative spirit.”

“Maria has a deep sense of, and abiding confidence in, the power of arts, culture, and design to inject creativity into public sector problem-solving,” said Rip Rapson, president and CEO of the Kresge Foundation, where Dr. Jackson is senior advisor to the Arts & Culture program. “She will be a tireless champion for deploying all the NEA’s tools in service of advancing social equity and justice for all Americans.”

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