Arts Entrepreneurship Podcast: Making Art Work

#260: Jane Chu (Artist & Arts Administrator) (pt. 1 of 2)

February 05, 2024 Nick Petrella and Andy Heise // Jane Chu
Arts Entrepreneurship Podcast: Making Art Work
#260: Jane Chu (Artist & Arts Administrator) (pt. 1 of 2)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This week on the podcast is part one of our interview with artist Jane Chu. Throughout her career she’s combined her academic research with professional practice in the arts, philanthropy, and business administration. From 2014 to 2018 Jane was the 11th chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts. Prior to that, she was the founding president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, and was charged with overseeing a $413 million campaign to construct and open the center.  Currently Jane is a practicing visual artist based in New York City, and her drawings of 3D colored objects atop black and white background scenes allow viewers to embrace multiple perspectives simultaneously. We’ll link to her website in the show notes so you can read more about her and her involvement with projects such as The Objects of Immigrants to America, by illustrating and telling stories of individuals from all walks of life who have immigrated to the United States. https://www.janechuart.com/

In our discussion, we unravel the complexities behind arts funding and its undeniable ripple effect across communities. Discover the expansive reach of the National Endowment for the Arts, far more inclusive than just nonprofits, and dive into the participatory heartbeat of their grant review process. Change-makers and art aficionados will find a trove of insights on how to engage with these panels and foster a fusion of creativity and commerce. The digital age has indeed redefined the arts funding landscape, carving out new avenues for artistic souls to traverse, intertwined with other disciplines, and free to explore both commissioned works and the pursuit of personal creative quests. Join us as we celebrate the artists who are pushing boundaries and painting our world with the broad strokes of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Announcer:

Welcome to the Arts Entrepreneurship Podcast. Making Art Work. We highlight how entrepreneurs align their artistry, passion and vision to create and pursue opportunities to capture value in the arts. The views expressed by guests on the Arts Entrepreneurship Podcast are solely their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the podcast or its hosts. The appearance of a guest on the podcast, the venture they represent or reference to any product or service does not imply an endorsement or recommendation by the podcast or its hosts. The content provided is for entertainment and informational purposes only and does not constitute business advice. Here are your hosts Andy Heise and Nick Petrella.

Andy Heise:

Hi Arts Entrepreneurship Podcast listeners. I'm Andy Heise and I'm Nick.

Nick Petrella:

Petrella, we're really excited to have Jane Chu on the podcast today. Throughout her career, she's combined her academic research with professional practice in the arts, philanthropy and business administration. From 2014 to 2018, jane was the 11th chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts. Prior to that, she was the founding president and CEO of the Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts in Kansas City, and she was charged with overseeing a $413 million dollar campaign to construct and open the center. Currently, jane is a practicing visual artist based in New York City, and her drawings of 3D colored objects atop black and white background scenes allow visitors and viewers to embrace multiple perspectives simultaneously. We'll link to her website in the show notes so you can read more about her and her involvement with projects such as the objects of immigrants to America, by illustrating and telling stories of individuals from all walks of life who have immigrated to the United States. Jane, it's great to have you on the podcast.

Jane Chu:

Thanks for letting me join you today.

Nick Petrella:

As everyone heard in the intro, you have a very deep talent stack and you just mentioned in an email that you're currently teaching a course in social entrepreneurship at City College of New York. How did a youngster from Arcadelphia, Arkansas, create such varied opportunities in the arts?

Jane Chu:

Well, you know, part of it, I think, is just my own mindset. I was born in Oklahoma and I grew up in Arkansas at my parents met in the United States, but they both immigrated from China, and so I really come from a culture that embraces certainly where I was born and growing up and where I live, and at the same time I embrace my parents, my heritage in my parents' country of origin, which is, you know, 11,000 miles away. So already, having that mindset of multiple mindsets and multiple perspectives at the same time has also trickled over into me. Thinking about what I like to do, what I enjoy doing, where I get energy and they don't always follow just a linear trajectory, and I think that would be the answer to how do I have a bunch of varied opportunities? Well, I have followed my heart and it hasn't been a linear process.

Andy Heise:

That's great. Yeah, that's. That's one of the reasons Nick and I started this podcast was to try to demonstrate that there is no one pathway to making a career in the arts.

Jane Chu:

There really isn't, and I think that is a celebration. I'm certainly. I know people who have, who have known right from the beginning, when they were a kid, what they wanted to do, and they've always. They knew where the job was and the profession and you know. Good for them for knowing that from the beginning. And then there are people like me who go on a journey. I've loved every opportunity I've had, but it hasn't been a one focus piece. It's been many, many more varied opportunities.

Andy Heise:

Sure.

Nick Petrella:

Yeah.

Andy Heise:

And so, as Nick mentioned in the intro, you're teaching a course in social entrepreneurship and I'm curious to know what's, what's your approach to that course, or going to be to that course, if you haven't started it yet, and what's you know if there's one thing that your students take away from that course, what do you, what do you hope that that is.

Jane Chu:

Oh sure. Well, I do teach a course at the Kolen Powell School. It's the Kolen Powell School of Civic and Global Leadership at City College of New York and it is a social entrepreneurship course, and many courses are approached and handled in multiple ways, but in the way I have taught, it is broken it down into four modules and they really have specific subcategories. And the first one is creation how do you create in the first place? And the second one is then you take your idea and you operationalize it and you implement it and you put it into some type of a project. The third one is a good overview of how you think about getting investors and raising funds for your project. And then the fourth, which is a critical one, is how do you communicate what you want to do for your project to somebody else? Because it has been in your mind, in your heart and in your energy level. So what is fun about is because there are people in my class who are not arts majors. I know we're talking about arts entrepreneurship here, but I'm out of the economics department and there are business managers and economic majors, including arts people as well, and so what I see, at least in my world, is. There are wonderful entrepreneurship courses which start with taking what idea you want and really figuring out how to implement it and make it happen. But I have not seen. I think that there can be more emphasis on what is creation like in the first place. It's not just starting with the people who already have good ideas. Good for them. But what kind of conditions do you have to put around yourself and around others to make sure that you're in the right mindset that you can create? And that's very different from the operationalizing and the implementation. So you have to learn and we do this in this class how do you give yourself permission to create and what do you need to turn one eye away and one ear away to say no. I can't focus on that right now Because my experience is that society mostly encourages us to focus on the steps of implementation and they sometimes this is a generalization, I'm not sure this is always fair, but they sometimes discourage people from creation. All those crazy people over there. We can't even follow them. But yet you need those types of conditions to create in the first place before you move over to operationalizing it. So to your question what do I wish there was a takeaway for my own students, I think, most of all to say you have to do both. You have to create and you have to implement both, but to be mindful of when you are creating and when you are implementing those two different mindsets. And we don't have enough encouragement to do that, especially the creation part.

Nick Petrella:

Yeah, you know it's interesting because you had mentioned something that really stuck out to me, because it's come up twice in the past two months with different interviews, and it was permission to create Right mission to create is a really big deal.

Jane Chu:

I mean, when you, when you aren't, when I'm in a creation mode and many that I've who I've seen in creation modes, it's different from when I am, you know, trying to get a something done, or if I have a deadline or I have to finish a task. For example, when I'm in creation mode, I give myself a lots of permission to fail. I, I Welcome it and I try to fail quickly because I know I will learn from it. I, I also find myself More curious, and so I give myself permission to not be Judgmental about the information that's coming my way or into my head, or how do I assimilate it all? And then often I will say you know what is missing in this idea? Or why do I have this idea in the first place? And it usually is because something is missing out there or I'm wanting to focus on some kind of an area that hasn't been done before, either in the market or in society. What kind of communication? And then sometimes I will, and this is the one that I see sometimes people Don't give themselves permission to do, they, I think it's important in creativity to bring together, synthesize multiple ideas at the same time, and it's like you're you're making a stew and From there you can create whatever project it is. But if you so, you have to make leaps. You can't just say I'm going to do this one project and what about this idea that's coming over here from left field? It does this relate? Well, it might relate more than people realize. So you have to give yourself permission to see, to say it's okay that I had this extra thought over here, that I didn't really think it matched because it might make my project better. That's creation mode. Before you get to now, how do you operationalize it?

Nick Petrella:

Yeah, and it in your class. With such disparate interest and stuff, it's kind of like what is it? Paris and Vienna in the early 1900s and New York in the 50s? I mean this juxtaposition of people artists, poets, who else, business people.

Jane Chu:

That's exactly right, and it's really Humorous to watch people think about that because and the the people who are In the arts in my class Feel like they've gone to paradise because they get to dream and then they get to create and then bless their hearts. The economics majors are hanging in there. You know well, this isn't, this isn't what I usually think, but they are giving themselves permission because I Encourage that to say dream about this, dream about that. Okay, start with what, what is in your heart, and then when we switch to implementation side, the arts majors are going oh no, I'm not sure I'm gonna, I'm gonna flunk the class because we have to start putting it into some steps that get you to the end point. But the economics majors are all like I know what to do next. You know I need I know how to think about the labor, salaries and things like that.

Andy Heise:

Yeah, right, yeah. And Jane, you've tapped into something I think about a lot is, you know, working with artists. I often describe, you know, entrepreneurship as sort of a there's two, there's two sides of the same coin. The one is I have this thing or this talent or this passion. How do I go out into the world and find a place for it? And the other side of that coin is where's the market opportunity and how can I create something to address that market opportunity? And there is no one necessarily right approach, but it's, it's taking into account both of those things. Well, you may start on one side, but you need to recognize the other as well well, that's exactly right and we're in.

Jane Chu:

In fact, we had addressed that at the very beginning weeks of our, in the very beginning weeks of our own class. And when somebody says, well then, what should I do? I have, you know, the world at my fingertips. There's only one answer as far as I'm concerned, and that is follow your heart. Where do you get your energy? So, if you see some heinous and atrocious things happening in society but it isn't of interest to you, then you need to find a project that will give you the energy. If you see something that you feel so called to be a part of and you cannot Stop, and you find yourself saying something like nobody's gonna stop me, I won't take for no for an answer. That is probably a good indicator that you can go in that direction to find your Response. So, to me, when somebody says the world's at my fingertips, pick something that follows your heart. Don't try to boil the ocean and many times creators do that they. Well, I want to. I want this to end up there. Well, it probably will end up there, but don't try to boil the ocean. Go one step at a time.

Nick Petrella:

So just two more quick follow-up questions. One is how did this course come about? And two, do you use texts or is it, you know, open course? Huh, what do you? What do you use?

Jane Chu:

I have a. It came up. The course came about because there's a really good Dean at the Colwyn Powell School and he's all about developing these opportunities for leadership and my approach is all. I am not an academic to Operate within a university or a higher education institution of full-time, but I like to have some kind of tether to it because I'm comfortable with it and my father was a college professor so I'm used to that Setting. But it came about because I enjoy the practice side of it. I as opposed to an academic textbook, so I have put together my own curriculum For students to follow, although I do refer to some various textbooks from time to time. Yeah, this is all about practice and less about you know math problems and finding this plus. This equals that it is far more about getting to dream and standing in the middle of ambiguity. And how do you make something out of that ambiguity? Because there is something there.

Nick Petrella:

Yep, yeah, practice is important. It's all. It's all grins and giggles until you're standing on stage in front of 1500 people.

Jane Chu:

Yes, well, that is part of the courses you, my students, present to each other and to professionals, their projects, and it is far less about whether they get funding, because we're in the fundamentals and don't actually try to Look for funding, but what it is much more about is the people that you are to, whom you are speaking. Do they understand what you're trying to say? Because communication is a different skill from dreaming something up, and so a practice on all of those modules Will give you a good overview right, so let's change gears here.

Nick Petrella:

On this next question, what were your specific duties as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, and what should arts entrepreneurs know about that organization? That may not be common knowledge.

Jane Chu:

Well, the chair of the National Endowment for the Arts is not a Honorary chair. You run an organization, so there's an agency that makes grants. It's part of the federal agency, it's independent federal agency, so a little over 50 years old, maybe getting closer to 60, and so the person who is the chair of the National Endowment for the Arts Runs, operates the agency, and that's an appointed position, a presidential appointed position with Senate confirmation. So I ran the agency and I did a lot. And it grants, it gives grants out to arts programs. So it does not necessarily have to be a Non-profit, which is an arts nonprofit, though most of them are but there may be great Arts projects that the Boys and Girls Club are doing or a higher education institution is doing or Something like that, and so it's a celebration of arts across the nation. And so I did a lot of traveling. I went to all 50 states and several other countries and that was such a great opportunity to see what's going on in not only every state, but Get to be able to see that when you go to one state and then you go to the next state, they're not alike. So you've seen one community, you've only seen one community, and that's the good thing about Getting to see all of this. And if I were Judgmental, about saying, well, you know, new York is just not the same as Florida, or you know, arizona or Arkansas, montana, if I were trying to make everybody force fit to being exactly like that would be, that would not be helpful.

Nick Petrella:

Yeah yeah, and so the second part of that question. You know what is Not common knowledge. You think about the organization.

Jane Chu:

Sure, one of the things that I found was not common knowledge is that there is an assumption that the chair or the agency Makes grants and it does. But the first people who read the grant proposals that come in are not the chair or the agency or the National Council, it is. They are the community. So the National Endowment for the Arts takes experts from all over the nation. So let's just say there's theater going on and they bring in experts in the theater area who are out in the field, really knowing you know boots on the ground, they really know what's going on and they can look at proposals and tell the dynamics of whether it's a promising project. Or they can look at it and say you know, they're just writing this stuff but they don't know what they're talking about. And they make the recommendations first on what they see in the strengths and then it goes through another process. But the chair is the last person to read the proposals and make those decisions. And I think that's the answer to the question of what do people not may not know about the NEA? Well, it's the community that decides and I love that idea because it's the nation coming together to make decisions on where things are happening and what's going on across the nation.

Andy Heise:

Yeah, and so those review panels that review those proposals, how does one become involved with that process? I'm just thinking like as an artist who might be interested in getting involved with the NEA. That might be a good opportunity. Yeah, that's a great question.

Jane Chu:

It's a wonderful opportunity and you just write into the National Endowment for the Arts their URL is artsgov, artsgov. And you can say you know, I heard about this, and how do I get connected? I've got a lot of experience in the following areas. It might be art, art and art, it might be research, it might be dance, and there are at least 15 to 20 different disciplines and you can say I would like to be considered. Could you put me on the list for review Now? It is a lot of reading, a lot of it, and sometimes people are almost overwhelmed over the reading. But boy, do you get a good overview of what's going on in the nation and you learn from each other.

Nick Petrella:

So, andy, when you write in, make sure you say that you heard it on Arts Arts.

Andy Heise:

But we should probably just use that word. Jane Chu told me to write this letter to you, so it's not often that artists like yourself later pursue an MBA degree, as you did at Rockhurst University here in Kansas City, just across the street from where I am right now. What was your motivation to do so, and has it been helpful? Or, at times, maybe has it been not helpful?

Jane Chu:

Well, it really still goes back to my multiple perspectives and my mindset that I've had all my life. So I find, now that I've looked back at my life, that just about every 10 years I reinvent myself and it gives me a lot of opportunities. And that really was one of the bucket list type of things. It's almost if you are fully trained in the arts. Without some kind of business or an understanding of administration, it's almost like going to a different country that speaks a completely different language. So that's how I felt when I walked in. But again, I gave myself permission to say I don't, just because I'm sitting around a bunch of accounting majors doesn't mean that I have to compete with them, and so I gave myself permission to just learn as I went. So it was all fun because I decided it was going to be fun. That's really at the heart of it. But it did open the door for me to have many more opportunities that I may or may not have had because I could see the new language and understand it. But you know, in several programs from MBA to my PhD as well, which is in philanthropy I found that, for example, in the statistics statistics classes that I had to take. I found that the number one piece that made me a better statistician is playing the piano, and both of my statistics professors said that one of them came out of the blue. Now, I haven't had enough algebra to save anybody, including myself, but one of my statistics professors came up to me one day and said are you a pianist? And he doesn't know me from anybody else. And I said well, yes, I am. How did you know that? And he said because your understanding of how to place one set of statistics with others is something that I have seen in piano players, and so there is an overview. It has to be either piano or maybe the guitar or instruments that require you to have multiple notes at the same time. So I play the flute too, but that would not have qualified, it wouldn't have given me that mindset. But when you are playing multiple notes and you have to realize on the piano that some of the maybe some of the inner voices when do I bring that out as opposed to the outer voices, or do I emphasize this note versus that note, even though I'm playing all of them, is a general way of thinking about statistics as well, and so that's how. So I don't think they're off in separate corners anymore Now. I think that they've been informing my statistics. My art has.

Andy Heise:

Yeah, that's fascinating.

Nick Petrella:

Jane, I watched a recent interview that described how you had gone to all 50 states when you were the chair of the NEA and you saw the impact that arts funding has on society. How do you see that arts funding in the US changing in the mid to long term?

Jane Chu:

Well, it's good to look back at how there was an arts mindset before, and it's really before the Internet and after the Internet which has played a key role. There's really two things that have played a key, important role to the impact the arts funding has had on society, and how the arts funding can be changed is changing. One of them is the Internet and the other one is the celebration of diversity across the nation. When you look at arts funding in the past, there's been a temptation. This is pre-Internet, so some people weren't even alive at that point, but some of us were. When you look at it the way it before, there was a mindset that the arts were. You might be a professional artist, but over here if you're an amateur artist, that doesn't count. Or if you are coming to telebeta art in a school setting, you might be speaking to a class, but you would not want to connect to, of all things, somebody else science curriculum or a STEM type of curriculum. There are now artists, but life is changing, especially through the Internet and the democratization of how you can access. For example, many times before the Internet there was an opportunity for an impresario to identify who might be in their programs and their performances, but if your impresario didn't identify you then you wouldn't get your career as made. Now you have people uploading their own performances on the Internet and then agents say wait a minute, I just saw you do that. That's great. I want to talk to you further. There is much more access. Arts funding can move toward the idea of one certainly celebrating what we've known as the traditional arts, because there's some fantastic things going on, but it can also celebrate things like. It can celebrate the culture bearers who create art for the sake of their community, and that is something that has been overlooked in the past. You can celebrate the vast, diverse array of people and communities and groups that have been so ignored in the past, and yet the music and the sounds and the art and the ways of expression and the creative writing are some of the richest, more robust art around. That is the way arts funding can now celebrate it too.

Nick Petrella:

That's great. You sidestep the gatekeepers.

Jane Chu:

Used to be the gatekeepers and now it's much more opportunities to be equitable anyway.

Andy Heise:

I think about the long tail theory. I think about the Internet and democratization of access to resources and opportunities. That's what. I can't remember who that was.

Jane Chu:

Well then, one. And then there's one other thought related to the. The arts funding is it seemed like there was. There certainly are certain categories of where arts funders like to to support, but it is. It seems like there is more opportunity to understand that we who are in the arts don't have to force ourselves or pigeonhole ourselves into only one category. So there are in my own visual arts, there are drawings that I want to create, that are specifically for somebody I mean it might be a commission, and sometimes it is and I want to do a good job for them. There are other opportunities that I have that might want to create out of my own expression, with nobody telling me what it is, and I get to do both. So in the past I might have been labeled you are only a commercial artist or you are an artist but you don't want to pay attention to society that you can do both now and you can be the same person.

Andy Heise:

Right, yeah, that's, that's a great, that's a great point.

Announcer:

Yeah.

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