Former chairperson of the National Endowment for Arts emphasizes the importance of art


Alison Albelda / Daily Senior Staffer

Jane Chu, the former chairperson of the National Endowment for Arts. Chu said she “transcended” everyday conversation through art and music.

Aaron Wang, Reporter

Recalling the moment after her dad passed away when she was nine, Jane Chu, the former chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts, said she didn’t have the vocabulary to fully express her grief.

“I expressed my feelings through music,” Chu said. “The piano lessons I took dutifully became much more meaningful as a result.”

Chu’s speech was part of an event on Wednesday hosted by the Master of Science in Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, in which she discussed her personal experiences and insights into the art industry. As a musician and an artist, Chu was nominated by former President Barack Obama to be the eleventh chairperson of the NEA.

Growing up as a second-generation immigrant from China, Chu said she learned how to live in a multicultural environment and be comfortable with different ways of thinking. But due to a lack of vocabulary, she “transcended” everyday conversation through art and music, she said.

During Chu’s four-year tenure at the NEA, she traveled to every state to visit artists and fine arts educators. Chu said she observed a pattern across the nation that art was “thriving and expanding,” driven by people’s desire to express their identity.

“People are yearning for their identities through the expression of art,” Chu said, “so that they don’t get caught in a conversation that forces everybody to fit in a specific category.”

Aside from her personal stories, Chu also shared advice for success in the art industry. Jennifer Novak-Leonard, director of the MSLCE program, moderated the event and asked Chu about the transition she experienced from training as an artist to moving into a national leadership role.

Chu said there wasn’t a specific job trajectory for her. She came across employers who weren’t satisfied with her resume, but she knew she had the experience from previous jobs in another area.

“It was just that I’ve dreamed of the arts and all the paths just opened it up to that,” Chu said. “There is something already in myself. I just followed my heart.”

Huiyuan Xu, an international student from China who is now a graduate in the MSLCE program, said she was motivated by Chu’s speech.

“My parents always wanted me to pursue a STEM major,” Xu said. “But I ended up here, trying to step into the creative industry. I tried hard to convince my parents about the significance of art. And now, I think I found the answer.”

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