On Monday, August 7, Robert C. Booker retired from the position he has held since 2006, Executive Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and a 40-year career in the arts field. First as an intern at the South Dakota Arts Council, then as a museum professional, and finally in his decades leading state arts agencies in Minnesota and Arizona, Booker spent his career in service to one of our nation’s greatest resources: creativity.

Booker had a few opportunities to publicly reflect on his career and the current state of the arts.

In June, shortly after announcing his retirement, Booker spoke with KJZZ’s Steve Goldstein about Arizona’s arts sector and his hopes for the future.

Arts Administration blogger Barry Hessenius published an “Exit Interview” with Booker on the morning of his retirement. the wide ranging dialogue covers such topics as equity in arts sector funding, the future of the National Endowment for the Arts, Booker’s advice for young arts administrators, and much more.

Lastly, after leaving the office for the last time as the Arts Commission’s Executive Director, Booker appeared alongside his successor, Jaime Dempsey, on Arizona Horizon:

Mean while, as Booker packed up his office, messages of gratitude, appreciation, and congratulations poured in from across the country and the span of his career. Below are just a few:

Bob: You are a stellar role model in arts leadership, and an inspiration (and envy) in retirement. “Fortune’s winds sing Godspeed to thee…!”

Paul Weagraff
Director, Delaware Division of the Arts

Dear Bob,

It has been such a joy to work with you and get to know you. Your leadership and intelligence will be missed, but I know you won’t be a stranger!  We hope to see you often here at MAC, and I am so happy that you’re already throwing yourself into your next chapter as a full-time working artist! :-)

Included a screen shot from a video of your wonderful MAC Talk with Cheech Marin. Thanks for that and so much more!

Congratulations on a career that has made a meaningful impact on the state of the arts in our nation. We in Arizona are so lucky that you landed here.


Cindy Ornstein
Executive Director, Mesa Arts Center

On the occasion of your long-overdue retirement, may I offer my relief. OK, let’s put that another way. Yo, Bob. I want to express my respect for your work in our field over…well, a gawd-awful long time. OK, let’s try that again. Bob, all of us have a shorter or longer tenures in our work. Something that has impressed me over the years is your prescience throughout. You have never rested or coasted. This is how leadership looks. It also is how respect for our mission looks. And always, it is how human decency looks. All my best wishes to a decent human being whose work and humane character matter in the world.

With Respect,

Michael Faison
Executive Director, Idaho Commission on the Arts

Dear Bob,

We heard that when you retire you’re supposed to have a lot more time on your hands. If that’s true, we certainly hope that means you’ll have a lot more time for puppies. We wish someone here around our house would figure that out.

Best wishes,

P.S., Rusty wishes you a creative and fulfilling retirement too.

Stella and Bruce
C/O Rusty
Executive Director, Arizona Citizens for the Arts


Thank you for lifting the arts sector, and all the people and organizations who make up a part of it. Your dedication, thoughtfulness and passion for our community are second to none. You will be missed, but not forgotten. I for one, could not thank you enough for what you did to bring me along and enable me to make a small contribution. No way would this have been possible without you. Happy next phase!

Mark Feldman
Board Chair, Arizona Commission on the Arts

NASAA salutes you, Bob! Your passion for the arts, your dedication to public service, your sense of adventure – and your restaurant tips – all are legendary. You lead with love, and we love you back. Thanks for all you’ve done for NASAA and the state arts agency field, Booker. Have fun painting!

The Staff of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies

Dear Booker,

You bring out the best in the people you work for and work with because everything you say and do communicates your loving, respectful, generous nature.  No one has more eloquently demonstrated in word and deed how the arts can serve to promote civility, equity and inclusion. The support you have maintained for your agency in Arizona, given the circumstances, is nothing short of miraculous, and, as those who know you would expect, you have set people and processes and relationships in place to grow that support. Knowing you is a pleasure and working with you has been a privilege, especially when you led NASAA as its president.  Terri and I wish you happiness and fulfillment in the years ahead.

Jonathan Katz
CEO, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (1984 – 2014)

Hi Bob,

I’ve loved having you as a colleague all these years.  I was so happy I got to “keep” you when you made the move from MN to AZ.

Your work has meant so much to so many. Thank you for your statewide and national leadership in our field.

I’m recalling the way-back days of the NASAA Research & Information Committee meetings in the basement of the Henley Park Hotel where I once spilled coffee on you just as you were leaving for the airport – thank you for still talking to me.

I’ve enclosed a photo that is near and dear to my heart.  You took this picture the final night of the NASAA conference in Boise, near the Basque Cultural Center.  Bradley and I were jumping up and down like maniacs to make the movable legs of our sheep pins swing and sway.  Whenever I see the pin I recollect that lovely evening of fellowship.

Wishing you the very best always, and much love,

Andi Mathis
State & Regional Specialist, National Endowment for the Arts

In the end, it isn’t necessarily the very big project accomplishments that are the measure of success, though you have unquestionably had your share, and then some. Often  it’s the scores and scores of small, quiet, selfless acts that change lives and worlds.  On behalf of all who bore witness to your generosity of spirit – as did I. – thank you for your graciously shared wisdom and support.  Well done my friend.  Now enjoy yourself and make art.

Barry Hessenius
Consultant; Director, California Arts Council (2000-2004)

Related Posts

Robert Booker Announces Retirement; Jaime Dempsey Accepts Position as Executive Director of Arizona Commission on the Arts

After more than a decade as the executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts and a 40-year career in the field of arts administration, Robert C. Booker will retire from his current position on August 7, 2017. He will be succeeded by Jaime Dempsey, who has served as the Arts Commission’s Deputy Director since 2006.

Read more


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