United States Artists President talks politics, importance of arts


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

United States Artists president and CEO Deana Haggag answers a question from moderator Radio, Television and Film department chair David Tolchinsky. Haggag spoke about her background and the importance of supporting artists.

Keerti Gopal, Reporter

Deana Haggag, president and CEO of Chicago-based United States Artists, said she learned the hard way that generosity was the key to leadership.

The 30-year-old spoke to about 60 people in Harris Hall at Thursday’s Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises speaker event. Haggag shared advice on interacting with people and changing minds.
“Generosity will change the course of your career,” she said. “Be generous, be in conversation with people that are different from you, find your mentors.”

Haggag joined United States Artists in February after spending four years as the executive director of a nomadic art museum in Baltimore. At the event, Haggag described showing up to her interview, which was just one day after the election of President Donald Trump, and seeing a sign on the door that read “Interviews for President of USA.”

“It was just a couple of blocks away from Trump tower,” Haggag added, amidst laughter from the audience. “It felt like being in this weird dystopian film.”

Haggag was a young applicant and said she was told she did not have much of a chance. When moderator and Radio, Television and Film department chair David Tolchinsky asked Haggag why she thinks she got the job, she emphasized the importance of authenticity. Haggag said her interview, where she did not shy away from the political moment, may have helped as well.

“I wonder a little bit if one mistake we make when we raise money is that we try not to get political,” she said. “I thought I had nothing to lose and I just went in bleeding-hearted. … I wonder if it was just perhaps a little refreshing.”

Haggag said United States Artists was founded in 2006 for political reasons: to raise public appreciation for artists and to provide infrastructure for them to create — without governmental restrictions. Accepting the presidency last year, Haggag said she was aware of the renewed relevance of the organization’s mission.

Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises student Kevin Sullivan, who attended the event, said he was interested in the unique model of the organization, particularly in today’s political climate.

“The organization has a very interesting support model that I haven’t necessarily seen in other places, because they do unrestricted giving,” he said, referring to the organization’s policy not to monitor artists’ use of the money they are awarded. “They directly support artists.”

Fellow MSCLE student Dominique Warren said the organization’s emphasis on supporting artists rather than artwork makes it unique in the funding community.

“It’s great to know that there’s somebody out there advocating for artists,” she said.

Every year, United States Artists awards $50,000 fellowships to artists in every field, from visual and performing arts to literature and architecture. On Tuesday, it will announce this year’s 45 winners, chosen from about 600 applications, Haggag said.

She added that the breadth of artistic fields recognized by United States Artists is an important aspect of their ability to reach people and ignite interest in the arts.

“I’ve failed to meet an American or a citizen or a human who isn’t motivated or moved by one of these things,” she said. “People are the same, remarkably, everywhere. You’ve just got to find a way to open up conversation with them.”

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