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White House Domestic Policy Council, NEA officials unveil new initiatives at arts and culture summit

Arts & Culture

To elevate arts and creativity’s contributions to the health and well-being of residents across the country, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the White House Domestic Policy Council hosted a cross-sector policy summit, “Healing, Bridging, Thriving: A Summit on Arts and Culture in our Communities” in late January.

The event focused on the role of artists and creatives in animating and strengthening physical spaces, fueling our democracy, and driving equitable outcomes for communities. Policy Advisor to President Joe Biden and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Neera Tanden and NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson, who is a former Kresge senior advisor, used the summit to announce new initiatives and partnerships across federal agencies. The new initiatives and partnerships are aligned with President Biden’s 2022 Executive Order, which calls for a “whole-of-government approach” to promoting the arts, the humanities, museums and library services.

Kresge’s Arts & Culture Program was among the summit’s nine philanthropic supporters. Kresge had a strong presence at the event including President & CEO Rip Rapson, and members of the Arts & Culture and Detroit programs.

The summit’s in-person attendance included 500 leaders from across sectors, including local, state, and federal government and tribal officials, policymakers, artists, arts advocates, academics, and philanthropic, corporate and community leaders.

With more than 30 speakers — including messages from Yo-Yo Ma, Jon Batiste, members of Congress, representatives from the reconstituted President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Second Gentleman, Douglas Emhoff, and a soul-stirring, show-stopping call-to-action from spoken word artist, writer and librettist, Marc Bamuthi Joseph from the Kennedy Center — the summit was a first-of-its-kind convening for the field and a milestone for the NEA. The entire Summit was livestreamed to the public, where more 3,000 people tuned in.

“The work of NEA Chair Jackson and her team to build alliances across federal agencies and the announcements made at the summit were compelling, and the messages from the Chair, artists, community leaders and many others were inspiring,” said Regina Smith, managing director of Kresge’s Arts & Culture Program. “We were honored to support and participate in the summit, and we look forward to exploring and strengthening our collaborations with federal and philanthropic partners to further promote culture and creativity as drivers of more just communities.”

Several highlights of the initiatives and partnerships announced during the summit included:

  • Radhika Fox (Assistant Administrator, Office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) announced that its Office of Water would host the agency’s first artist-in-residence program in support of water restoration and climate resilience efforts in six locations (Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the New York-New Jersey region).
  • Admiral Rachel Levine (Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) announced a partnership with the NEA on an interagency working group to advance arts, health and civic infrastructure.
  • Shelley C. Lowe (Chair, National Endowment of the Humanities) announced a partnership with the NEA on the United We Stand initiative, a $5M initiative to combat hate-fueled violence through cross-cultural understanding; and,
  • The NEA announced a $5 million initiative focused on supporting artists and arts organizations advancing health and wellbeing in communities.

The summit included conversations among community-based organizations, artists and government agencies integrating arts and culture as part of their strategies to advance health, physical and civic infrastructure.

Chair Jackson moderated a conversation with the U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, about the importance of broadening the concept of healing to include our need for joy, social connection and hope.

Murthy highlighted how arts and culture are critical ways in which we connect and essential tools for rebuilding the social infrastructure to address the nation’s epidemic of isolation and loneliness and the mental health crisis that young people are facing.

Among the community-based partners presenting during the event was Asali DeVan Ecclesiastes, CEO and chief equity officer at Ashé Cultural Arts Center, a long-time Kresge Arts & Culture and American Cities grantee, who spoke about how the Center has trained and hired artists as health workers. The New Orleans public health system has supported this practice and now serves as a model for how cultural workers can play an integral role in the health and wellbeing of our communities.

The summit and caucuses offered concrete examples of how arts and cultural strategies are aiding in “disrupting the inertia” and offering different ways the public sector and others can engage with and support creative solutions in local communities. The announcements marked a significant pivot by the NEA to restore support to individual artists through Policy Fellows in federal agencies and engaging the Department of Labor, a direct commitment to artists as cultural workers.

Here are some reflections from Kresge staff members who attended the event:

  • “Each speaker and government representative saw the value of arts and culture and the values, principles and practices artists bring to build, heal and create thriving conditions for our communities.” —  Michelle Johnson, Senior Program Officer, Detroit Program
  • “The takeaways from this historic convening are countless. Learning about the NEA’s collaborative efforts with other agencies and community organizations was truly enlightening. In a time of such fragmentation, the power of the arts to build bridges and understanding was a beacon of hope from yesterday’s conference. Excited to see how these partnerships blossom!” — Wendy Lewis Jackson, Managing Director, Detroit Program
  • “I was inspired by how the Summit wove strategy with soul. By bringing together artists and leaders across a multitude of sectors, the Summit demonstrated how creativity, culture and spirit can powerfully strengthen and nurture all dimensions of our lives — and underscored the importance of this in both principle and practice.” — Candace Kita, Program Officer, Arts & Culture Program
  • “The significance of the NEA Summit is a testament to the work that community-based organizations, arts and cultural practitioners, government agencies and funding partners have been advancing. The power of creativity to draw a wide range of partners together at this scale is remarkable, and this moment presents an opportunity to reenergize the field around the promise that arts and culture can contribute to how our communities heal, connect and thrive.” — Inés Familiar Miller, Program Officer, Arts & Culture Program