National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu visits Bennington arts community


BENNINGTON >> The arts can do a great deal of good for military victims coping with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, according to the director of the National Endowment for the Ars who was in Bennington last week.

Jane Chu, the 11th chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts, met with members of the local arts community at the Masonic Lodge in Bennington Friday. Chu was in the area to give the commencement address at Bennington College and had visited Brattleboro the day before.

Chu said that in December, Congress approved an increase in the NEA's budget, but required that money be directed at veterans.

"We support arts therapy programs, visual arts, music therapy and creative writing sessions at Walter Reed (National Military Medical Center), and the turnaround is so dramatic, because it wasn't invasive. They come out and it's so transformational, they don't have to have a stigma on their record," said Chu. "Family members were saying, I got my loved one back, because that person could communicate more, could manage their stress more, it enhanced their memory, it was all good."

She spoke in response to a question posed by Alexander Aldrich, executive director of the Vermont Arts Council, which receives some funding from the NEA. Aldrich asked her to comment on funding sources that come with specific requirements and wondered if it would not be preferable to have the military pay for the arts programs benefiting veterans.

"I was very receptive and very appreciative of Congress increasing the NEA budget in December," she said, noting that given the economy and the "complex" situation regarding federal budgets any increase in funding for the arts was a welcome one.

She said the Walter Reed program has been going on for about four years and the NEA hopes to expand even further it to 10 other sites by the end of 2016 if it gets additional funding. She said the requirements attached to the funds have not been a problem. She added that it's in fact better that the NEA be the vehicle for spending that money, as the organization is more versatile than the Department of Defense.

She said about 40 percent of the NEA's funds still get funneled to the states, and that money is not restricted.

Communities should now be taking stock of themselves and their arts needs, she said. That way, when funds are available, they can take advantage of them sooner.

She said art allows communities to express their identities and for people with different perspectives to communicate. Prior to her position at the NEA, Chu was president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Mo. She oversaw the construction of the center, a $413 million project.

"It was a real great opportunity," she said. "The arts bring people together that come from different perspectives, drywallers and oboe players. They don't talk alike but they had a common project together and we figured out how to honor those perspectives and put it back in the community."

Having a thriving arts community an be a great economic boost to a community, she said, both in terms of drawing people in and bringing those who already live there together.

— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115


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