Everyone has a story to tell, and sometimes a paintbrush, a pirouette or a grand piano does the job when words fail.
That was the root of a message Jane Chu, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, carried with her during a stop in Juneau on Tuesday.
“The arts allow us to do so much self-expression beyond the use of everyday conversation,” she said. “Everybody has a very special unique way of being engaged with the arts. The arts are thriving.”
Chu began touring Alaska last week on an invitation from the Alaska State Council on the Arts to gain a greater understanding of what art means in Alaska, an experience Chu said has affected her profoundly.
“(Alaskans) have a way of honoring long-established traditions and at the same time are looking forward,” Chu said.
In Juneau, Chu’s stops have included Perseverance Theatre while crew members set up for an upcoming production of Othello and a tour of the Sealaska Heritage Institute. She was also welcomed with a reception at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center with entertainment by the Mendenhall Quartet.
Although Chu has traveled for almost a week now and is moving from one art exhibit to another each day, she said the passion she’s encountered along the way has kept her energized and made further clear art’s thriving role in this and all communities.
“It’s proof of one of my central beliefs that the arts are a valuable and vital component of our everyday lives,” she said.
Because of the arts ability to create new jobs and even advance medical treatment, Chu expressed a need to safeguard its future, especially in schools.
Creating entire schools that could cut out arts programs, such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) schools, are a disservice to children who could otherwise be transformed through art experiences, Chu said.
“We believe art as a dimension of learning engineering and math is extremely important,” she said, furthering her point by explaining that scientist who go on to become Nobel laureates are 17 times more likely to have engaged in the arts compared to their counterparts.
“We’ve seen and supported schools where they have an arts curriculum specifically to teach science and math,” Chu said. “For the third and fourth graders, the standardized scores shot up and the first ones to notice what these arts curriculums were doing were the science teachers.
“There is integral relationship with arts and ourselves and it’s a disservice when we are not connected,” Chu said.
The chairwoman’s visit to Juneau drew out more than 50 members from the arts community to meet the national champion for their cause. Hali Duran, a board member for Juneau Dance Theatre, said she found Chu’s message of an arts community that builds the world economically and socially inspiring. It was a message Duran searched for early in her years as a dancer that she hadn’t heard worded so perfectly until Chu took on her role at the NEA.
“It was the answer to the question I couldn’t find when I was younger,” Duran said.
State Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, also attended the JACC reception and received special thanks by Ben Brown, chairman of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, for her work as a member of the House Finance Committee, which appropriates $800,000 for the council.
Chu’s tour of Alaska’s art network is evidence of how organization are putting funds to good use, she said, and furthering art’s positive role in all lives. She also invited Juneau’s art community to share its love story with art during the NEA 50th anniversary web project at arts.gov, where people can share with the nation what art has done in Juneau.
“Tell the country what arts means to Alaskans,” Chu said.
Chu will conclude her tour of Alaska with a trip to Sitka today, visiting the studio of artist Teri Rofkar, the arts groups at the Sheldon Jackson Campus and the Island Institute.
• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @paulaannsolis.