Thursday, October 2, 2008
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All conference photos courtesy Dan Reynolds Photography
Assembly 2008 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, left nothing to be desired. Dolly Parton's opening keynote about the genesis and evolution of her national Imagination Library initiative, which instills a love for reading in pre-schoolers by supplying them with age-appropriate books, set a high standard for inspirational presentations. Broadcast journalist John Seigenthaler, a Tennessee native, directed National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Dana Gioia, renowned artist Mary Miss, and me in a discussion of the roles artists play in a healthy democracy. Our final plenary speaker, photographer Chris Jordan, told the story—in words and images—of how the practice of his art led him to activism on behalf of several environmental and social issues. He helped us see—and demonstrated by example—the importance and power of artists in social decision making.
We celebrated NASAA's development as a community—of colleagues, learners and friends—over the course of the 40 years since its inception. A group of NASAA's early leaders and former presidents participated in conference activities and gave video-recorded interviews that will enrich our history. My executive director's report focused on the increase over time of NASAA's value to its member agencies in their continuing quest to adapt proactively to a changing environment. Our NEA partners made their expertise and resources available; our champion, Dana Gioia, shared his future plans with us and accepted our accolades as a true "American Masterpiece"; we honored Senior Deputy Chairman Eileen Mason for her leadership; and we welcomed Deputy Chairman for States, Regions, and Local Arts Agencies Patrice Walker Powell to her new position—and close working relationship with us.
We counted more than a hundred new state arts agency conference attendees, 125 Tennesseans registered for a day of special activities, and NEA Director of States and Regions John Ostrout conducted a well attended grants workshop for the local arts community. Our special awards—the Gary Young Award for career achievement to South Carolina Arts Commission Executive Director Suzette Surkamer; the Distinguished Public Service Award to artist and Vermont Arts Council member (and former chair) Margaret "Peggy" Kannenstine; and the National Accessibility Leadership Award to the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs—went to inspiring leaders and made us all feel special. Throughout the conference, participants enjoyed music of all kinds, dance, performance and visual art, and indigenous crafts organized by our hosts at the Tennessee Arts Commission.
My quick review of evaluations for preconference sessions ("What Do the Numbers Tell You? Learning to Look at Financial Statements" and National Standard Training) and peer group meetings (with a new group: staff serving individual artists), briefing sessions, and workshops found high levels of satisfaction. The all-important rating of "just about right" for the time devoted to various activities was close to unanimous and tells us that, from the point of view of participants, the conference design was on target.
Huge thanks go to our fantastic Tennessee hosts and volunteers led by Tennessee Arts Commission Executive Director Rich Boyd, Chair Donna Chase and All-Around Magician Molly Pratt. I especially appreciate the NASAA staff for their world-class and tireless work in organizing and managing Assembly 2008 in Chattanooga in only nine months after Assembly 2007 in Baltimore. Every conference participant and every member of NASAA can take pride in the community we've created to improve our public service and increase the pleasure of working together. Thanks to you all!
Refer to the Assembly 2008 Proceedings page on the NASAA Web site for reports and images as they come in.