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Senate confirms Biden’s pick to lead the National Endowment for the Arts

Maria Rosario Jackson has been confirmed to lead the National Endowment for the Arts. (David K. Riddick)
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Maria Rosario Jackson, a national leader in integrating arts and culture into community development, was confirmed Saturday morning as the first African American and Mexican American to lead the National Endowment for the Arts.

Jackson, 56, earned a doctorate in urban planning from the University of California at Los Angeles, and she’s a professor at Arizona State University and a sought-after speaker on how to embed arts, culture and design into community life. Jackson previously worked at the Urban Institute, a think tank in Washington.

In 2013, President Barack Obama appointed her to the National Council on the Arts, the panel that advises the endowment. She has served on many boards of arts organizations, including the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the Music Center in Los Angeles, where she lives.

President Biden made the historic nomination in October, during National Arts and Humanities Month. At the same time, he nominated Shelly Lowe to be the first Native American to lead the National Endowment for the Humanities. Lowe’s nomination has not been confirmed.

Reached by email, Jackson referred a reporter to a statement released by the NEA, in which she thanked the president for the “once in a lifetime opportunity” and pledged to lead 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.”

“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,” she said. “. . . 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.”

Jackson credited her father, who retired from the Postal Service, and her mother, who worked for the Los Angeles school district, for cultivating a love of the arts in her and her brother.

“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,” she said. “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.”

Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, applauded Jackson’s confirmation, saying “the nation will be made more beautiful and its creative spirit more empowered.”

“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,” Crow said in a statement.

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