Inside the NEA: Getting to Know Ayanna Hudson
Ayanna Hudson. Photo by Gregory Gilmer
After 23 years of living in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Boston, DC native Ayanna Hudson is finally returning to her hometown. Hudson begins today as the NEA's new director of arts education, bringing with her a successful track record of integrating the arts into school curricula. In her previous position at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Hudson led the "Arts for All" regional collaborative, which ensured access to the arts for the county's 1.6 million students. As Hudson sets out to take the reins here at the Arts Endowment, we spoke via e-mail about what she hopes to learn at the NEA, who she hopes to run into in the elevator, and why she can't wait for the Olympics to begin.
NEA: In five words or less, who is Ayanna Hudson?
AYANNA HUDSON: Mother. Fierce dedication to youth arts.
NEA: What do you remember as your first/earliest engagement in the arts?
HUDSON: I grew up in a household where my parents played jazz morning, noon, and night, so my home was always filled with music. I played the flute in the school band, and also studied ballet, jazz, and tap dance, and took various sculpture classes. One of my most memorable educational experiences was in Posey's third grade class. I remember learning about the pilgrims by working with my classmates to draw and paint not only a large, two-dimensional Mayflower ship, but also collaborating to create all the elements you would find on the ship. To this day, this work is one of my most memorable educational experiences.
NEA: What are you most looking forward to about living in the Washington, DC metro area?
HUDSON: Having grown up in DC, I am really looking forward to living closer to family and childhood friends. Also, for the 11 years I lived in Los Angeles, I always missed the warm summer nights and fireflies! While of course I have many memories of DC, I haven't lived here in 23 years, so I am also looking forward to rediscovering the city through the eyes and experiences of my six-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
NEA: What will you miss most about Los Angeles?
HUDSON: Impromptu Saturday breakfast on the beach with my daughter and our friends, who were our family in LA.
NEA: What do you hope to learn while you're at the NEA?
HUDSON: I look forward to learning about all the arts education work taking place in large, medium, small, and urban, suburban, and rural communities across the country as well as learning from all of my amazing colleagues at the NEA, both from the arts education team as well as colleagues from the other disciplines.
NEA: What do you hope to accomplish while you're at the NEA?
HUDSON: I hope to build on the long history of great arts education work at the NEA and strategically deepen the agency's investments in arts education. Through strategic investments, I hope to help communities learn to position arts education as a core part of workforce development and education reform efforts happening across the country and to change the culture of education and communities through the arts.
NEA: What are you most proud of accomplishing while you were at the LA County Arts Commission?
HUDSON: When I started at the Arts Commission, the agency had just completed the first ever survey of the status of arts education in the 81 county school districts. From this data, I spearheaded the creation and implementation of "Arts for All," which is now a national model for systemic change and whole system reform. I am extremely proud of the fact that over a ten-year period, we established a 100-member coalition to take collective action to achieve Arts for All's vision, and increased the number of school districts adopting and implementing arts education policies and plans from one to 50. Arts for All also developed a new paradigm for partnerships between arts education providers and school districts. We also fundamentally changed both the culture of schools so that all students receive arts education, and the county-wide conversation about arts education from one about money and resources to one about leadership and commitment.
NEA: Which contemporary artist do you secretly hope you run into in the elevator or the halls while you're here? (And why?)
HUDSON: Kehinde Wiley. I fist saw his work at an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art a couple of years ago. Ever since then, I have been fascinated and intrigued by his blending of styles and culture.
NEA: What would people be most surprised to learn about you?
HUDSON: People would be surprised that I absolutely love the Olympics and stay up well into the night watching speed skating, skiing, gymnastics, swimming, and all the other great winter and summer sports! Also, I am a "semi" health nut and add spinach or kale to practically every meal or smoothie, and that I love yoga, but haven't been able to carve out time to practice it on a regular basis!
NEA: What does "Art Works" mean to you?
HUDSON: To me, art works in education. I have dedicated my life to keeping young people in school, helping them graduate, and helping them to gain the skills they need to be successful in work and life. It is through the arts that students develop the ability to innovate, communicate, and collaborate---the skills that are highly desirable across all fields and industries!
NEA: Any last words?
HUDSON: I am truly, truly honored to serve in this capacity. I am deeply dedicated to making a difference in the lives of youth through the arts and am excited and thrilled about the adventure ahead!