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NEA Chairman in Boise: Bok Choy, Corndogs and Why the Arts are Worth Fighting For 

click to enlarge - Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts -  - GEORGE PRENTICE
  • George Prentice
  • Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts
Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, likens her personal story to what she calls "Bok Choy and Corndogs."

Chu is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Her father left China in 1948 at the height of political unrest, and her mother was smuggled out of China on a train to Hong Kong.

"She didn't even carry a suitcase so as not to raise suspicion. She wore eight pairs of underwear underneath her clothes. She was subjected to 148 separate interrogations. But she made it to America," said Chu. "I was born in Oklahoma and raised in Arkansas, so I have navigated a Bok Choy/Corndog set-up."

Chu studied music, received master's degrees from Southern Methodist and Rockhurst University and a Ph.D in philanthropic studies from Indiana University. In 2014, she was named chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, the 11th person to hold that post. And on Tuesday, Chu was in Boise to champion the arts, particularly Idaho arts, as part of a packed schedule that would allow her to visit the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Boise's Egyptian Theatre, The Cabin, Artisans for Hope, The Twin Falls Center for the Arts, Boise State University and the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy (Esther Simplot herself was in attendance) where Chu was welcomed by Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson.

"I've seen some of Congressman Simpson's watercolors and I must say he's a talented painter," said Chu, whose primary message was what she said was the "real economic engine" of the arts that bring "color and life back to blighted communities."

"But the arts are not a frill," Chu told a gathering of executives from many of Idaho's largest arts organizations. "The arts are a necessity. They're worth fighting for."

And Simpson said he was ready to help in that fight.

"The current NEA budget is approximately $154 million. Next year, it will be about $147 million due to budget cuts," said Simpson. "But we need a plan—a five year plan—to restore funding to the NEA where it was once, about double of what it currently is."

After a swing through the Magic Valley, Chu is scheduled to return to Boise Wednesday, Aug. 5, to visit with Boise State University regarding an NEA-funded research project which examines the relationships between universities and creative clusters in the Intermountain West region.
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