WOW! In February, I was confirmed as New Hampshire’s eighth artist laureate and first dancer to receive this honor! Jazz hands, switch leap, head toss, roll to the floor and exit stage left!! (That means “I’m overwhelmed and excited” in dance.)
To be honest, I’ve spent much of the spring feeling intimidated by the artists whom I follow; potter, composer, theater artist, painter, master furniture maker, fiddler/violin maker, and a photographer. All brilliant creatives who have impacted their disciplines and communities in profound ways; I’ve been feeling that I may not be up to snuff. But, in recent days, and with the encouragement of friends and colleagues, I’ve come to realize that they way I navigate the next two years of service, are uniquely my own!
I’ve had many questions about the requirements of the position and if it comes with compensation, so let me explain.
The appointment is one of service and comes with no compensation. However, it does afford me much more visibility and the increased possibility of building capacity around my projects. The top priority, as I see it, is to continue making work as an artist which, for me, means dancing as much as possible. Next (based on my interpretation of the role), I believe it is important to represent the creative workforce by modeling collaborative and inclusive teaching and making practices. I have an opportunity to shed light on the value artists have beyond their products and performances. Artists are inventors, change-makers, leaders and community strategists! I will strive to be a good steward. While I ultimately hope to build out a statewide project that uses dance and movement to tell stories about our rural spaces, I am currently focused on using my role to support the struggling Arts and Culture sector due to the pandemic. Stay tuned.
Other frequent questions include: How did you receive this honor? Did you self-nominate?
If you can believe it, I had NO IDEA I would ever be considered for a role like this. It came as a total surprise! The NH State Council on the Arts has a 15-member Advisory Council that is tasked with choosing an individual artist to put forth as a strong suggestion to the Governor for artists laureate. Early in 2020, I received an email from Dr. Roger Brooks, advisory council chair and great champion of arts and education in our state. He informed me that he would be “passing through” Plymouth (where I work at Plymouth State University) and asked if I would be available for a brief visit, which I was. Dr. Brooks arrived that day with both Gary Samson and my friend and collaborator Vivian Beer in tow. Unbeknownst to me, the three were there to tell me that the advisory council would like to offer my name to the Governor for the artist laureate role. Over lunch, it was revealed and I was so overwhelmed that I’m fairly certain I didn’t eat more than a few bites. Things moved quickly from there.
Once the NHSCA makes the suggestion to the Governor, he can accept the suggestion or choose another candidate to put forward as an official nomination to the Executive Council. I was so pleased that the Governor put my name forward. The Executive Council took time to review my work and I had several email and phone call exchanges with the Councilors. By vote, the Executive Council confirmed my two-year appointment as artist laureate on February 18, 2020.
I had the chance to sit down with Gary Samson, photographer and immediate past laureate to discuss his term of service in order to gain perspective on the role further. In that conversation, Gary impressed on me the importance of legacy, a long-term energy that makes space for artists beyond this moment in time. Over his time as laureate, he mobilized close to 100 photographers to document life in our state. Those photographs will become part of the State Library archives and selected images will be published in a book. I’ve thought about Gary’s words and project most often as I consider my time in this role. While there are many ways I could dance across the landscape, I want to bring my community with me and share the power of movement broadly.
I offer this blog (my first one), so that my community can join in the fun – and probably some failure too – as I navigate this roll. Feel free to drop me a note via my website www.leadwitharts.com !