President Biden has named his nominees for two of the U.S. government’s top cultural leadership posts.
Maria Rosario Jackson, a professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts (HIDA) at Arizona State University and a specialist in urban planning, has been tapped to lead the National Endowment for the Arts.
Shelly C. Lowe, a career academic who has served as executive director of the Harvard University Native American Program and director of the Native American Cultural Center at Yale University, has been nominated to steer the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Both women have extensive experience with the respective agencies, having been appointed by President Obama to serve on the advisory councils that support them.
If confirmed by the Senate, both nominees would also represent firsts for their positions: Jackson, the first African American and Mexican American to lead the NEA, and Lowe, the first Native American to chair the NEH.
The appointments come as the U.S. cultural sector faces a steep recovery from the pandemic. The unemployment rates for the cultural community are among the highest in the country, according to a recent statement from the White House. New York City alone lost two thirds of its jobs in the arts, entertainment, and recreation sector over the past year, according to the New York state comptroller’s office.
The NEA and NEH have been tasked with distributing an extra $135 million each as part of Biden’s American Rescue Plan, almost doubling their budgets. The President has also said that his proposed budget for the next fiscal year also includes “significant” funding increases for the two bodies.
“I am continuously inspired by the myriad ways in which artists, designers, and culture bearers make a difference,” Jackson said in a statement, “whether it be through celebrated national and international careers or through careers where artists are embedded in our communities, institutions, and organizations helping us to see and act in new ways as we move towards a more perfect union.”
“Ensuring the American people have access to humanities institutions, resources, and programs is absolutely critical in addressing the challenges of the 21st century,” Lowe said.
Former President Donald Trump unsuccessfully fought to dissolve the NEA and NEH throughout his time in office. But the endowment’s budget actually increased over the last four years, up from $149.8 million at the start of his term.