Representatives from the National Endowment for the Arts are in Laramie for a public event this evening. Chairman Jane Chu and Wyoming Arts Council Executive Director Michael Lange will host a town hall reception at the Gryphon Theatre at 6 p.m in honor of the NEA's 50th anniversary and Chu's first visit to Wyoming.
Chu was appointed to her post by President Obama in 2014. Since then, she’s made hundreds of visits to communities around the country to see what kind of role the arts are playing.
“We want to dispel the myth that the arts are tanking,” said Chu. “It’s anything but that. The arts are thriving, in so many different ways. And people are participating, however, in many traditional ways but also in new ways.”
Chu says the internet has changed how many people access the arts. She says three quarters of American adults have their first arts experience through electronic or digital media. In turn, that has led the NEA to offer digital and other new media grants.
Another of its grant programs is called ‘Our Town,’ designed to help communities fund programs that enrich community life and spark economic development—what the NEA calls ‘creative placemaking.’ “Because the arts spark a vitality of quality of life, even if it’s a one-time program or a festival, and people start wanting to be there for those activities,” explained Chu.
She says downtown Laramie’s mural project is a good example for how the arts can energize a community. The NEA is an independent government agency and the country’s largest granting organization for the arts. 40 percent of its annual budget goes to state arts agencies, including the Wyoming Arts Council.