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Jane Chu Biography

Bennington College 2016 Commencement Speaker

Jane Chu, an accomplished artist and musician and current chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, has spent her career thinking about the arts’ role in the country’s creative ecosystem.

Her signature leadership initiative at the NEA, Creativity Connects, means to "start a new dialogue on the ways in which the arts—and the ways the NEA supports the arts—are an essential component of our everyday lives," says Chu. "Although many may not realize it, the arts actively intersect with areas such as the economy, human development, and community vitality. The arts and artists who are funded and supported by the NEA are an integral part of the solution to the challenges we face in all parts of our society."

Chu’s career has been both as a performer and as an arts administrator. Among her many accomplishments, she served as the president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri, from 2006 to 2014, overseeing a $413-million campaign to build the center.

She received bachelor’s degrees in piano performance and music education from Ouachita Baptist University and master’s degrees in music and piano pedagogy from Southern Methodist University. Additionally, Chu holds a master’s degree in business administration from Rockhurst University and a PhD in philanthropic studies from Indiana University, as well as an honorary doctorate in music from the University of Missouri - Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance.

Chu describes her childhood in Arkansas as the daughter of Chinese immigrants as a “bok-choy-and-noodles, mashed-potatoes-and-corn-dog background” that has affected how she’s approached her work. “Over the years, I’ve realized that may be part of why I’m so comfortable with ambiguity. And in situations where you could honor the ways different people thought.”

Photo by Strauss Peyton Studios