Nancy Boskoff -- Lifetime Cultural Achievement Award Keynote

2016 UTAH CULTURAL ALLIANCE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

REMARKS BY NANCY BOSKOFF

{Nancy Boskoff was awarded UCA's Lifetime Achievement Award on December 5, 2016. Below are her remarks upon accepting the award}

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You are all awesome -- look around -- mighty impressive.

You may think the word awesome is overused, and it is. However, I found this quote, somewhere in my daily readings, which I am fortunate to have more time for these days:

'What is awe, anyway?  .  .  . hiking in Canyonlands National Park, two brothers had been 'awestruck' -- altered in an instant by an electrifying moment that scientists have only recently begun to study.  . . early studies show that it's a dramatic feeling with the power to inspire, heal, change our thinking, and bring people together."

Paula Spencer Scott (writer in the field of health)

So for us, being awestruck is one thing that happens when humans make art and experience art.

Let me stop here for a moment to explain: in these remarks, I will talk about the arts. I know this is a gathering of the Utah Cultural Alliance (humanities, natural history, history, libraries, film, video and media, folk arts, historic preservation, public radio and television, museums, botanical and zoological programs) and forgive me for any I've not mentioned.

My background and my experience is in the arts, so please understand that it is the foundation for what I say, not intended in any way to exclude the important work in all these other rich fields.

 

MY FAMILY, MY HISTORY

 

My family is small, and if it weren't for the genealogical research of our only first cousin, we would have no idea who came before. What I do know is that our grandparents, immigrants from Eastern Europe, and our parents, first generation Americans, were instilled with a strong work ethic and a very strong commitment to improving the community.  

 

We grew up in the Washington, DC area -- what a great opportunity to live democracy. We were part of the civil rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King in 1963, and we stood before the Lincoln Memorial to hear him deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech. In junior high, our mom took us on Saturday mornings to a Quaker settlement house in DC to do what was called 'arts and crafts' with a group of younger kids who came from low income families. After I graduated from college with a degree in secondary education with a major in modern dance, I worked at an arts nonprofit in Far Northeast Washington. You may not know this, but there are two rivers in DC: the Potomac and the Anacostia. Far Northeast is on the other side of the Anacostia River, and the home to low income, mostly black families.  When Jimmy Carter was elected president (that would be in 1976, incidentally the 200th anniversary of our nation), he made it clear he wanted the inaugural celebration to be what we would now call inclusive. So the teenagers I taught dance to at this arts nonprofit performed at a small neighborhood museum, and our group, the Sign of the Times Dancers, was officially included in President Carter's inaugural program. By the way, I had to contact the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library to get some information on this; I couldn't remember the date. My teenaged dancers performed on Friday, January 21, 1977, and they did a great job.

 

Since then, most of my work in the arts has been in the public sector. I think this reflects my interest in both the arts and in serving the public. It's important to have people who care about public policy, about keeping the arts on the public agenda, and in managing programs that equally serve artists and the public. 

 

AWESOME UTAH

 

I arrived in Utah in 1980 to work at the Utah Arts Council. I was looking for a new adventure and I expected to stay for a few years . . . that was in 1980 and here I am. I found an incredibly rich environment of artists and arts administrators and leaders and volunteers, still under the radar for most of the country, now finally beginning to generate some recognition and respect beyond our borders.

 

There are so many wonderful, smart, funny talented people I've had the great and good fortune to meet and work with. I can't begin to list them all . . . well, I could, but I think you'd get restless. I want to acknowledge two of my mentors, one from back east: Eliot Pfanstiehl, who is still going strong in the DC area. He has talked to me about retirement but he is such an energizer bunny that he can't picture what that would be like. And here in Utah, Arley Curtz, who was assistant director of the Utah Arts Council when I was hired. He is such an intelligent and principled person, I still talk to him about policy and the right thing to do. 

 

Now there is my sister, of course. Susan Boskoff is the executive director of the Nevada Arts Council and has been for quite a while. Our parents were puzzled by, yet supportive of, our ventures into the world of arts administration. Susan's degree is in film and television, and her communication skills in any medium are unsurpassed. Here in Utah, she also worked at the Utah Arts Council, developing the Utah Performing Arts Tour into an integrated network of performing artists from inside and out-of-state with presenters throughout Utah who brought the best in music, dance and theatre to their communities. She helped develop Salt Lake County's public art program and was first on the ground with the Performing Arts Coalition to help initiate the development of what is now a world-class cultural facility, the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. Those of you who have seen us together know that we talk a lot, we laugh a lot, and, more often than you might think, have different ways of seeing the world. It's a partnership I treasure.

 

Just a note, we're not the only family in the arts business, maybe it's a Utah thing. There's Leslie and Michelle Peterson, daughters of Glade Peterson. Jena, Joan and Todd Woodbury, Sherry Waddingham and Terrie Buhler (formerly the DeMill Sisters) who kept the Utah Arts Council on financial track, Virginia Pearce at the Utah Film Commission and sister Sarah Pearce at Sundance Institute; and so many artist-teams of families and spouses. These family connections are really quite remarkable as well as lovely, notwithstanding nepotism rules.

 

I want to thank some of the people I had the great fortune to work with, especially at the Salt Lake City Arts Council -- Again, I can't possibly name everyone, but when I started there, it was the fearsome foursome of Beverly Whitney, Casey Jarman, Kim Duffin and me, expanding from there to include many more incredible people. We had the creative force from Casey Jarman to build such great community programs as the Living Traditions Festival and the Twilight Concert Series; and we had the community of artists that made the Holiday Craft Market at the Art Barn what it is today. A long list of people who served as board members would take your breath away if you knew them for their humor, their intelligence and their willingness to work together on common goals. 

 

You may not know this: we have Valerie Price, now the public art program manager for Salt Lake County, to thank for the inspiration behind the "Flying Objects" public art program downtown. Valerie has the skills of an administrator and the creative energy of an artist, a highly valued combination. Another first-rate contributor to quality public art in our community is Glen Richards. He has the ability and the experience to speak the language of artists and contractors, of architects and stakeholders. He's the glue that holds a lot of projects together.

 

Just a moment to let you know a curious fact: at one time, three public art program managers -- that would be Vicki Panella Bourns, Jim Glenn and I -- all had a background in modern dance. I draw no conclusions from that, just that we thought it was pretty cool at the time. Now, as you know, Jim Glenn still manages the state's public art program, bringing together some breathtaking and thoughtful projects for people to enjoy across the state. And Vicki, director of Salt Lake County's Zoo, Arts and Parks program, is a shining example of managing a cultural grants program with grace and aplomb, and, to all our benefit, unblemished audit reports.

 

Oh, man, I could go on and on. A quick shout-out to the members of the Performing Arts Coalition. It's such a pleasure to work as a volunteer on their annual project, Rose Exposed, sitting at the table with these hard-working, funny, smart people whose daytime home is the Rose Wagner Center.

 

YOU HAVE A VOICE

 

'"At Creative Time, we believe art matters, artists' voices are important in shaping society, and public spaces are places for creative and free expression. As we emerge from this election, we remain committed to that vision now more than ever and we look forward to ensuring that artists continue to be part of the political discourse moving forward." Signed 'with love and kindness,' Katie Hollander, Executive Director, Creative Time.'

 

We live in complicated times and communication is more complicated than ever. Communication is the foundation of advocacy. So think before you press "send" or "share." Find the sources that you can trust and stay informed. Ask questions. 

 

Just last week, one of the "talking heads" who appears often on cable network news said this: "People say facts are facts -- they're not really facts . . . everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth, or not the truth. There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as truth." 

 

One of the glories of art is the multiplicity of expressions: art can be sweet, it can be moving, it can be beautiful, it can be disturbing, it can be educational, it can be political, it can be challenging, it can be thought-provoking. Thank goodness we have the first amendment right of freedom of expression. That is a foundation for artists' work. And that ventures into the realm of politics. 

 

What about public funding for the arts? If you expect public support for the arts, and expect our elected officials to appropriate money for the arts, you again venture into the realm of politics. If the arts are essential to civic life, to a complete education, to the local economy -- you can communicate that to your representatives.

 

There's probably not one person in this room who hasn't been an activist for cultural issues, and likely other issues as well: clean air, public education, human rights, health care, you name it. You know the drill: there are emails to write, petitions to sign, gatherings to attend, posts to share . . .

 

However, because your issues are so important and because the future is a little cloudy, I encourage you to be strategic in how you are politically active. Time is precious and I know how hard everyone works to keep the doors open for your organization or to set aside studio and rehearsal time.

 

For you to be a strategic activist, stay informed. Are you sure the information is up-to-date? Is it accurate? Do you know who is working on this issue and who would be able to tell you the latest? Have you figured out who the decision-makers are? 

 

Would one phone call to a legislator have more impact than signing a petition? If a thousand people are attending a rally, would your time be better spent writing a personal note to your Congressional representative?

 

Share your message face-to-face when you can. This takes planning and if you're knowledgeable about an issue, you can run into an elected official at the grocery store and give them a one-sentence (two at most) opinion about what you think is best for the community.

 

Save a spot on every board meeting agenda for a report on current issues.

 

When you schedule a meeting with a decision-maker or elected official, don't just tell them what you want; ask them what they think. A transactional experience, a human interaction, has more impact and is more memorable for both of you.

 

You are both dreamers and perfectionists in your work.  We know that legislation is imperfect at best, so you may not be able to change the total outcome but you can help to improve the language and the intent. By being active, you can make a difference.

 

In our field, we are just now catching up on critical research about finances, about audiences, about the community and economic impact, about how the arts help our young people to learn and grow.  We have always had great anecdotes and visuals.  That's what we do: we are consummate storytellers. 

 

Now we have facts, figures and stories.  Utah is number one in the nation in arts participation -- that is such a powerful fact (yes, it is a fact) and it captures a compelling story as well. Utahns value the arts.  And through your work, you make Utah and the world a better place.

 

So you have both the story and the data. Be creative with your visuals and don't forget to bring along the fact sheet with charts and graphs.

 

★★★★★

 

As I wrap up, forgive me for those people I haven't mentioned today. We'd be here 'til dinnertime if I thanked everyone who has enriched my life.

 

Here's a quote from artist Anna Bliss, who is no longer with us.  She was speaking at a screening of a documentary about her life and work a few years ago, and she said, "I think of memory as a multi-story building." 

 

May each of you have a life of more good memories than bad and may you add many stories to your building of life. 

 

Thank you for this award, which I accept with both humility and joy.  Thanks to Diane Stewart as the sponsor of this event. And many, many thanks to the Utah Cultural Alliance for all their good work.

 

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  • commented 2016-12-16 14:39:23 -0700
    Ah, Nancy, you are always a class act. Thanks for your support and encouragement and good humor over the years.
    Cheers.
    Don Gomes