With nearly two decades of arts administration under her belt and a job as executive director of Boise City Arts Commission, Julie Numbers Smith is a champion of the arts in all facets of Idaho life. Her goals include increasing public funding, bridging the gap between art and politics and making it possible for artists to find work without moving to New York.
BW: How did a successful job in nursing turn into a passionate crusade for the arts?
JNS: While visiting my aunt in Berkeley, I saw Peer Gynt, and my heart was taken at that moment. I had background in theatre, so I called up the American Conservatory in San Francisco, applied, auditioned and got in. I was there for two years in their advanced training program, and that was when I got my first paycheck as an actor; it was $50. It wasn't much, but can you imagine being in San Francisco in the '70s in acting school? Life was good.
And after graduation?
I knew I needed to "get on the bus to New York," so to speak, so I worked as a nurse to earn enough money for a one-way ticket. It was the standard story; I waited tables, studied with different teachers, worked off-off Broadway and on some soaps. Then I got cast as Lady Macbeth at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, and I found my husband in the orchestra pit. We knew each other for three weeks before he asked me to marry him; three months later we were, and it has been 24 years. I think we're still in shock.
You worked as community development director for the Idaho Commission on the Arts for a decade ... why the move?
I stayed as long as I did because I loved the work, but after 10 years, I wanted to see what was out there. My position with the state allowed me to affect change by facilitating, planning, supporting and cheerleading, but I really wanted to be in there doing it-heading up arts movements with state perspective on a local level and affecting more immediate change in the community where I grew up.
What is the biggest challenge to the arts right now?
A lot of state agencies aren't seeing the value, so we have to step back and look at art and the perception of what that is and politics and the perception of what that is-they usually end up on opposite poles. That's where arts administrators step in to communicate that business cannot survive without art and art cannot survive without business. The bridge between the two is amazing.
Why is art so important?
One of the greatest challenges we have as human beings is to find our creative potential, both as individuals and full communities. It's not only the ethereal aspects of what art can do, it's also economic and social factors that are becoming a movement for "creative community." The arts are somewhat misunderstood, but they're extremely powerful.