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Why the head of a federal arts agency is touring rural Ohio

Colorful art projects sit atop a table covered in paint and art supplies.
Passion Works Studio Facebook
Art projects sit atop a table at Passion Works Studio in Athens. Maria Rosario Jackson, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, will start her tour of Ohio with a visit to this studio.

The chair of the National Endowment for the Arts will visit Ohio this week.

The agency has distributed more than $23 million to arts organizations across the state over the past five years. Now, it’s trying to better understand how to serve the state’s rural communities.

A portrait of Maria Rosario Jackson in a black blazer and gold earrings
Aaron Jay Young
/
National Endowment for the Arts
Maria Rosario Jackson is the chair of the National Endowment for the Arts. The agency has distributed more than $23 million to arts organizations in Ohio over the past five years.

Chair Maria Rosario Jackson will begin her visit to the state in Athens, where she’ll stop at Passion Works Studio, a space where people with and without developmental disabilities can connect and make art together.

Then, she’ll head to the Mount Zion Black Cultural Center. A group of community members are working to preserve the historic Black church and convert it to a space to celebrate Black history and culture.

Jackson says places like these are vital to the health of rural communities.

“Part of having a healthy existence in any place, I think, includes feeling like you belong there, feeling like it is a significant place for you,” she said.

“To be able to point to something and understand that there's a family legacy there, or that this is something that was built by a community that you're a part of, that instills a sense of stewardship, a sense of pride. It helps to underscore the connection that we feel to each other and to the places where we live and work.”

She pointed to a growing body of research that shows how important art can be to a person’s physical and mental health.

“The arts are part of what allows us to be fully present, to express our humanity and also see the humanity in others."
Maria Rosario Jackson, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts

“We're learning more about how it impacts people who have experienced trauma,” she said.

Plus, the arts contribute to the economic vitality of a place. The National Endowment for the Arts has found the arts and cultural sector adds hundreds of billions of dollars to the nation’s gross domestic product, including $72.8 billion to the economies of rural states.

Jackson’s tour of Ohio will end with two public meetings:

  1. A town hall at Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville on Thursday, June 27 from 6:15–7:15 p.m. You can RSVP here to attend, or watch a live stream at arts.gov. 
  2. A public meeting of the National Council on the Arts at the Lincoln Theater in Columbus on Friday, June 28 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. with a meet and greet following. You can RSVP here to attend, or watch a livestream at arts.gov.

At the public meeting, she’ll talk with art and design leaders about how art in rural places can create stronger, healthier communities.
“The arts are part of what allows us to be fully present, to express our humanity and also see the humanity in others,” she said.

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.