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North Dakota Council on the Arts (NDCA) has a new leader at the helm. Executive Director Jessica “Jess” Christy, an artist in her own right, joined the Agency in May 2024. Born and raised by artistic parents in North Dakota and holding art degrees from North Dakota Universities, Jess spent the past 10 years immersed in the arts scene of the Chicago area, where she dedicated her time to teaching and collaborating with numerous arts nonprofits and community initiatives. 

As she begins a new journey with NDCA, Jess shares more information on her background, along with her vision for the arts and plans for North Dakota’s future.

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your background and what led you to this position? What types of art call to you and what led you to printmaking?
    black and white photo of an old wooden farmhouse and surrounding buildings

    Jessica Christy's parents among other people in a collage
                        *See caption below.

    Both of my parents are artists – they met in art school – so art has been in my life since before I can remember! They had a small farm and studio in Sanger, right against the Missouri River, next to what is now the Cross Ranch State Park. By the time I was born, they had moved outside of Valley City. I grew up helping both milk the goats and work in the art studio, so I’d like to think I was half farm kid / half art kid. When I was little, local schools would take field trips to our house and farm… I’m not sure if it was because of the goats or the artists.

    When it came time to choose a career path, it was natural to gravitate toward the arts. Printmaking is often a collaborative, community-building way of making. It’s also incredibly technical. I was initially drawn to the problem solving it presented to my practice, but now I’m really drawn to the community aspect of printmaking. If you think about printmaking in its earlier forms, it was a means to provide information to the masses. It equaled the playing field and brought people together.

  2. What is your initial impression of our state's arts scene and the role of the agency within it?
    One thing that’s so beautiful about North Dakota’s art scene is that it’s built by individuals with a strong desire to bring arts and culture into their orbit. It starts with an idea from that one person or that small group and becomes one of the vital organizations and creative spaces we depend upon. In North Dakota, artistic development and growth are often grassroots movements that are very much alive within our communities. I’m now fortunate enough to support these movements through NDCA and I believe it’s our job to listen to the needs of our artistic communities and build new avenues to bolster their success. 
  3. How do you plan to ensure inclusivity and accessibility within the agency's programs and initiatives?
    Our state is a maze of relationships and overlapping connections. I think it’s easy to rely on that and circle back to those we know. What I feel is most important is to build more relationships and more overlap with anyone interested in the arts. The arts are for all and we lose out if we’re not consistently opening our doors to new ideas and partnerships. It’s our role to connect and support anyone interested in a path in the arts and to constantly be looking for ways to lower our barriers of entry into the arts. 
  4. What role do you see the agency playing in fostering collaboration and networking within the arts community? 
    Artists are often collaborative by nature, but if we really lean into the idea of skill sharing and the division of labor, our efforts go further. Let’s take those organic conversations, the impromptu meetings at an event, the time spent brainstorming at a conference (are you coming to ours in August?!?) and turn those into our growing support network. The team at NDCA are connectors and facilitators. We want to support you however we’re able. Let’s chat! 
  5. What measures do you plan to take to advocate for the importance of arts funding at the state level?
    Printmaker Jessica Christy working in her studioI don’t think it’s news to anyone reading this, but the arts are essential. According to Americans for the Arts, a student involved in the arts is four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. Additionally, participation in the arts leads to improved academic performance and lower dropout rates. As an artist and educator, I’ve witnessed that truth over and over. My artistic career has prepared me to be an effective advocate for the arts, but I really look forward to sharing data about the high return on investment the arts provide our state. 
  6. What personally inspires you about the arts and how does that inform your leadership style?
    The arts are a vital form of communication. We are all born as artists, making marks and experimenting, and while some of us choose other paths and ways of communicating, we’ve all spoken the language of art. So when I’m leading a class or discussion (and now I can say NDCA), it’s a chance for me to learn from the other creatives in the room. For instance, I’ve learned so much from a variety of creatives, from young engineering students who approach a project with a new (to me) mindset, to elders with experience far beyond mine. I see my role as an opportunity to continue learning…I’m just here to shuffle the bits of info I collect and use it in my efforts to be the state’s strongest and LOUDEST arts advocate.

To learn more about Jessica Christy, visit our Staff page or email her at jesschristy@nd.gov.

*The City It Grows mural painting installed at the Bismarck Civic Center by David Christy; Jess is the subject in the pink sweatshirt and cowboy boots.

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