Theres been a lot of enjoyment. Thats how Anna White sums up her career as an arts advocate, administrator and, most of all, an arts lover in Indianapolis. This sense of enjoyment has inspired her to serve as one of this city's most influential arts leaders. Best known as the long-standing former director of Young Audiences of Indiana, the states largest arts education organization, White has also been a board member for many of Indy's most important cultural landmarks, including the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Dance Kaleidoscope, WFYI, the International Violin Competition and the Indiana Youth Institute.
When White moved to Indianapolis in 1966 with her husband Jim, the city's once proud arts scene had, like the city itself, fallen on hard times. But the arts were an integral part of Whites life. Although she had grown up on a farm in South Dakota, art, and especially music, played a major role in her family. It was a family tradition, she says of a homelife that included piano lessons and singing in the church choir. When wed get together, wed play duets. White studied music at Augustana College and then at the University of Minnesota, where she received a masters degree. So one of the first things she did upon arriving in the Circle City was to volunteer at the Art Museum (then at the Herron site on 16th Street). Shortly after that, she was asked to join the board of Young Audiences.
Whites understanding of the importance of the arts in education prompted her to become one of Indiana's leading arts advocates. White stresses that arts education isn't about teaching kids to be artists, but rather to be whole people. Much of art is individual and solitary, she notes. But the performing arts are very much a communal discipline. Its teamwork. Its being on time. Its the place you're supposed to be.
White adds, The arts bring not just discipline, but everyday creativity and flexibility to ones learning. It helps one adjust to changes.
White believes that it is crucial for students to have one-on-one experiences with works of art and with artists themselves. Its important for kids to see artists making a living. It places value on artists in their community. The mission of Young Audiences is to bring artists into schools that, too often, have little or no arts programs of their own. During Whites tenure, YA of Indiana annually served over 300,000 children in over 50 counties and developed one of the largest artist rosters of any of the 32 chapters across the country. This has not only served Indiana's young people, it has also meant that YA has become a significant source of income for artists in a state in which economic opportunities for artists are scarce.
The position of Young Audiences is that artists be paid for their work, White says. We would get a lot of calls asking for artists to volunteer for this or that event, and we basically said no. You wouldn't call a plumber and ask him to fix your sink for the exposure.
White laughs when she says this. Laughter is a frequent part of her conversation, its a gracious way she has of emphasizing a point and inviting agreement. It may also be that Whites sense of humor has played a part, not only in helping her to grow Young Audiences into a program serving children from pre-schoolers through high school, but in getting the arts taken seriously by this city's leadership class.
White was a founding member of the Consortium of Arts Administrators, a group that formed the basis for what would, through a number of incarnations, become the Arts Council of Indianapolis. White helped to establish a system of public funding for the arts in Indianapolis. It took a very long time and was very hard work, she says, remembering days when it seemed like a victory just to get a mayor here to acknowledge that the arts had civic value. There really was no solid endorsement of the arts by a mayoral candidate until Bart Peterson.
Although she has retired from her Young Audiences post, White continues to push our arts organizations to realize their potential. Next years International Violin Competition and this summers re-opening of the Indianapolis Museum of Art are two projects she is involved with. She is especially excited about the attention the IMAs expansion will afford contemporary art and has been lending a hand in planning for the museums first major exhibition, a blockbuster show dealing with the Arts & Crafts movement.
Participation is what she wants more of for the burgeoning arts scene she finds here today. Id really like to see engagement by more people in the arts, however that might be. Thats because, for White, the arts are a necessity. They're part of what make us human. Its a spiritual quality, however thats expressed. They make us more of who we are.
- David Hoppe