- Associated Press - Monday, March 24, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - There will be a big canvas to fill July 7 when Jan Webb, executive director of the North Dakota Council on the Arts, retires from her post of 14 years.

She has enjoyed her work thoroughly, but thinks it’s time to move on to allow new ideas and a new voice for the position.

“The people I have met with this job have been spectacular,” she told The Bismarck Tribune (bit.ly/1fCMCGo). “It’s been an eye-opener and interesting to see what the programs are doing for individual lives and communities. It helps develop a better quality of life.”

The arts council has 10 major arts grants for nonprofits, public entities and fellowships for individual artists. She said the organization partners with several groups such as parks and recreation programs, the State Historical Society of North Dakota and even Amtrak in bringing arts to the public.

Webb said the grants help accomplish the agency’s mission to promote, perpetuate and preserve arts in North Dakota. She said the arts affect every facet of our lives, including the modern tech world. People’s quality of life would be lowered without listening to a favorite musician on the radio, she said. Playing computer games wouldn’t be the same without colorful icons or characters created by a graphic designer, she explained. Studies suggest arts complement education and help create innovative workers and thinkers on the job, said Webb.

Most of the North Dakota Council on the Arts funding comes from the National Endowment fund and state appropriations, she said, but there is a small amount provided from a private endowment as well.

Webb previously owned the Northwood Gallery for 12 years and was the executive director of the Bismarck Arts Galleries Association for five years.

Among Webb’s accomplishments on the arts council are programs that place arts in assisted living facilities and a program where train passengers see live performances from western North Dakota to northeast Montana.

Because of a healthy relationship with the Legislature, the agency has increased its budget and stabilized under her tenure, Webb said. It also helps that the agency’s staff of five works cohesively with one another.

Jan has been a great director to work for,” said Rebecca Engelman, director of the Arts in Education program at the North Dakota Council on the Arts. “She sees the big picture, provides direction and yet allows flexibility.”

“We have been able to promote the agency a little more than we did in the past,” Webb noted. “We’ve done several overhauls to the grant program … We have online grant applications to make the grants more accessible.”

She said there are more publications about art programs and even CDs with musical performance and storytelling.

She said the agency has provided grants for both preserving the traditional arts, while backing a diverse range of other arts for the public to experience. Its grants have funded artists in residence in schools, community music festivals, fellowships for individual artists and community-related arts program, Webb said.

She said another important part of the job is preserving the state’s heritage. That includes funding programs that help people train others in skills such as saddle making and silversmithing. Its grants also support fine arts and crafts, she said.

“Without arts, the world would be a bland place,” she said.

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