ND Senator Carolyn Nelson Named Inaugural Recipient of National Arts Award

Throughout her personal, political and professional life, North Dakota Senator Carolyn Nelson has exemplified what it means to be a supporter of the arts – and people are taking notice.

Next week, Senator Nelson jets off to Washington D.C. to receive the “Outstanding Woman State Legislator Supporting the Arts” award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Women in Government (WIG).

She’s the first person ever to receive this prestigious award.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Senator Nelson – who has represented District 21 in the North Dakota State Legislature for nearly 30 years – and chatting about her artistic background, how she got the award and how she felt when she was first notified in early October.

“I was rather surprised,” she recalls. “It was little things that I didn’t think much of, but someone else did” – like gathering all the music camp passes from other legislators that weren’t going to use them and giving them to people that normally wouldn’t be able to go, she shared.

Mary Schneider and Pamela K. Anderson of the ND State House of Representatives nominated Senator Nelson. She was selected from a pool of other female legislators across the country.

In order to receive this award, nominees must demonstrate a significant contribution in support of the arts, evidence of promoting policies that support the arts, collaborate with cultural and education partners to support the arts and promote the value and importance of the arts in public life.

And Senator Nelson’s name kept coming to the top of the pile.

“Senator Nelson exemplifies the leadership that women bring to the table,” says Colorado Senator Nancy Todd, chair of WIG’s Board of Directors. “At home, in the community, in the legislature, nationally and around the world, Senator Nelson has enhanced thousands if not millions of lives through the arts.”

In the public policy realm, Senator Nelson advocated for the arts when she was leader of the local and state PTA, Board of Education and in her legislative career.

Some of her many achievements include establishing a State Historical Society addition to the state archives, which gave many nonprofits – especially art groups – a place for their historical records.

She also led the 1976 Governor’s Musical Ambassadors trip to Norway and currently serves as a board member of the International Music Camp program.

In addition, she co-founded the ND Coalition for Public Education in 1980, where she promoted performance and hands-on participation in the arts for children of all ages. She served as the President of the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) from 2011 to 2015 and is a member of the AAUW, Fargo Roundtable, Handbell Ringers of America and First United Methodist Church.

And these are just a few examples of how she incorporates the arts into her life.

“I’ve always believed that the arts are the key toward well-rounded people,” she said. “To me, the arts are just as much apart of math as they are of (creative fields).”

Senator Nelson has BS degree in math and music education and an MS in math education and administration from NDSU.

“The arts impact all facets of our lives,” said Mario Rossero, Senior Vice President of Education at the Kennedy Center. “As the nation’s performing arts center, the Kennedy Center sees how the arts bring people together to share an experience that knows no boundaries and enriches creative thinking, collaboration, cultural-understanding and communication.”

Rossero continues, “The commitment and dedication Senator Nelson in advocating for the arts at every level is inspiring and the Kennedy Center congratulates her on receiving this inaugural award.”

Congratulations, Senator Nelson, and thank you for all you do to put the “support” in “support local art”!

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