Urban Planning alumna Maria Rosario Jackson PhD ’96 has been confirmed as chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, becoming the first African American and Mexican American woman to lead the federal agency. “The arts are critical to our well-being, to robust economies and to healthy communities where all people can thrive,” said Jackson, a professor at Arizona State University who has served on the National Council on the Arts since 2013. For more than 25 years, Jackson’s work has focused on understanding and elevating arts, culture and design as critical elements of strong communities. She has served as an advisor on philanthropic programs and investments at national, regional and local foundations, including the Los Angeles County Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative and the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. She serves on the board of directors of the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, among other organizations, and her work appears in a wide range of professional and academic publications. She also taught a UCLA course on arts, culture and community revitalization. Jackson grew up in South Los Angeles and credits her parents with instilling a love of the arts in her family. “Our art, culture and creativity are some of our country’s most valuable resources,” she said. “They are evidence of our humanity, our ability to learn from our examined experience, and our ability to imagine and innovate.” President Joe Biden nominated Jackson to the NEA post in October, during National Arts and Humanities Month; her appointment was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Dec. 18.