One perk of being chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts: a private tour of the new-to-America Plains Indians art exhibit several days before it opens to the public.
Here in Kansas City, we know Jane Chu — or “Chairman Chu,” as NEA staffers refer to her (“Kind of nice alliteration, isn’t it?” she quipped). Chu helped get the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts off the ground as its first president and CEO.
On Monday, Chu, 56, was back in town for the first time since becoming NEA head in June. Part of her day was spent touring three institutions that receive funding from the federal arts agency.
At the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where “The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky” will open Friday, Chu inspected elaborate feather headdresses, a small sculpture of a Lakota woman, decorated leather robes and other objects, asking questions of American Indian art curator Gaylord Torrence.
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The Nelson received $90,000 from the NEA for “The Plains Indians” exhibit, which first opened in April at the musee du quai Branly in Paris. Four robes on exhibit are from quai Branly’s collection. Next year, the exhibit will travel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Chu described coming back here as a treat. The arts make Kansas City thrive, she said.
“We all want to get out the message that the arts are an essential component of our lives,” she said. “They’re not isolated.”
No doubt some KC arts organizations like the idea of having an “in” with Chu, but as chairman “you recuse yourself from previous relationships,” she said.
So bribing her with a steak won’t do any good.
“Plus I’m vegetarian,” she said, smiling.
At the American Jazz Museum in the 18th and Vine district, CEO Greg Carroll did more than show off the museum’s collection, which Chu acknowledged she’d seen before, “as a visitor.” He also described projects on his wish list, like building a stage where kids could play “air jazz band” and making a wall of jazz album covers “come to life.”
The jazz museum has received as much as $25,000 a year from the NEA. “It’s very competitive,” Carroll said.
Monday afternoon, Chu was scheduled to tour the new InterUrban ArtHouse in downtown Overland Park and attend a reception at the Mid-America Arts Alliance in the Crossroads.
Tuesday morning, she is to speak at the private Hallmark Creative Leadership Symposium at the Kauffman Center.
After KC, Chu will continue her national tour in Columbus, Ohio, and Sioux Falls, S.D.