For Immediate Release
May 24, 2017

Contact: Steve Wilcox

After more than a decade as the executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts and a 40-year career in the arts field, 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 agency’s Deputy Director since 2006. Her promotion was approved by the state agency’s Governor-appointed commissioners on May 18, 2017.

Booker and Dempsey are respectively the 5th and 6th individuals to lead Arizona’s state arts agency since its establishment in 1967. Predecessors include Ralph Rizzolo (1967-1969), Louise Tester (1969-1980), Adrienne Hirsch (1981-1984), and Shelley Cohn (1985-2005).

Robert C. Booker

“I will be forever grateful to have served Arizona residents through the work of the Arts Commission. I thank the artists, educators, elected officials, community leaders, and advocates who have played such important roles in advancing our shared work, and who so generously offered inspiration, guidance, and support throughout my career.”

Booker led the state Arts Commission through an often challenging period marked by recession-era budget reductions and major shifts in the state’s public policy environment. Nevertheless, under Booker’s leadership, the Arts Commission distinguished itself as one of the state’s most resilient, responsive, fiscally responsible agencies, and one of the nation’s boldest and most innovative state arts agencies.

Select Achievements

  • Successfully guiding the agency through significant recession-era budget and personnel reductions.
  • Maintaining the Arts Trust Fund as a primary funding stream supporting statewide arts grants and programs.
  • Securing robust bipartisan support for the agency’s 10-year Sunset Review reauthorization.
  • Expansion of new private funding partnerships local and national corporations and foundations.
  • Working closely with State Senator Al Melvin to ensure the passage of Senate Bill 1348 with strong bipartisan support, creating Arizona’s first Poet Laureate post.
  • Collaborating with small and rural communities to co-create programs employing the arts to address community challenges.
  • Identifying post-recession opportunities to support legislative champions’ efforts to restore arts funding.
  • Reinforcing the brand and reputation of Arizona’s arts sector through active participation and leadership in regional and national service organizations, ensuring Arizona’s prominent position in national dialogues regarding issues important to the sector.

Career of Service

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.

He served on the boards of Art over AIDS, Minnesota AIDS Project, Western States Arts Federation, Arts Midwest, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (Chairman), Grantmakers in the Arts (Chairman), Minnesota Governor’s Residence Council (Chairman), and on numerous NEA and state arts agency review panels.

Booker currently co-chairs the Arts Committee for the Arizona-Mexico Commission and is a member of the Advisory Committee for the Center for LGBTQ Philanthropy at the Arizona Community Foundation. He is also a working artist and will enjoy his first artist residency experience in Sedona this summer.

“A Beacon and Valued Colleague”

In response to his announcement, laudatory statements have poured in from across the country.

“The National Endowment for the Arts extends its sincere congratulations to Bob Booker, for his leadership and stewardship of the partnership between the NEA and the state arts agencies he led,” said Laura Scanlan, NEA State & Regional Director, referring to his years as director of the Minnesota State Arts Board (1997-2006) and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. “He is a respected colleague who has championed artists, the work of arts and community organizations, and efforts to provide access to the arts for all.”

“I am honored to have known and worked with Bob Booker for much of our careers in the arts,” said Janet Brown, President & CEO of Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA), a national network of private, public, and corporate arts funders whose board Booker chaired from 2015 through 2016. “His humor, common sense, and passion for the value of artists in our communities have been an asset to every constituency he’s served.”

Booker also served on the board of directors of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) and as its president from 2004 to 2005. NASAA executive director Pam Breaux offered her appreciation of Booker’s contributions: “A consummate pioneer in the state arts agency field, Bob was an early developer of cultural tourism programs, and more recently led the development of AZ ArtWorker, providing high-quality, culturally-relevant professional development for artists. He stands as a beacon and valued colleague to his friends and admirers in the state arts agency community.”

Senator Steve Farley, a Tucson-based public artist and state legislator, said, “Bob’s leadership was key to maintaining vital arts funding programs throughout Arizona during exceptionally challenging times. I am so grateful for his selfless service, dedication to artistic excellence, and deep outreach to rural, urban, and suburban areas of the state. His advocacy allowed the arts to transform lives and local economies alike.”

Jaime Dempsey

When asked to list his greatest accomplishments during his time leading the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Booker gives the number one position to hiring Jaime Dempsey as the agency’s deputy director.

“Jaime has established herself as a respected leader in Arizona and throughout the country, known for her expansive knowledge of arts industry challenges, public policy opportunities, and ability to devise productive collaborations,” Booker said. “Over our 11-year partnership, we encountered substantial challenges, which only strengthened our resolve to fulfill the Arts Commission’s mission and mandate as an agency of the State of Arizona: to ensure that every Arizona resident can participate in and experience the arts.”

Prior to joining the Arts Commission, Dempsey developed community programs and partnerships as the first program manager for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University, later teaching courses in arts leadership and nonprofit management for ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Previously, she managed programs for Idaho’s nexStage theatre and the multidisciplinary Sun Valley Center for the Arts.

In 2016, Dempsey was elected to the board of directors for Grantmakers in the Arts, a national service organization which holds racial equity in American arts philanthropy as a core priority. Since 2012, she has served on the national board for DataArts (formerly Cultural Data Project), which endeavors to “empower the arts sector with high-quality data to strengthen sector vitality, performance, and public impact.”

Dempsey’s Arizona service includes her ongoing engagement as a Flinn-Brown Fellow, having been selected to participate in the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership’s Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy in 2013. Her creative practice incorporates performance, vocal music, and authentic community engagement.

Leadership at the Leading Edge

As deputy director, Dempsey has kept the agency on the leading edge of the field, spearheading first-of-their-kind strategic initiatives such as Arizona Art Tank (a fast-pitch competition in the style of Shark Tank), Community Catalyst (cross-sector arts-led partnerships in small and rural communities), and NextAZ, a visionary planning initiative designed to empower communities to activate creative assets and co-create ideas to fuel Arizona’s brightest future.

She was also instrumental in the establishment of Arizona’s poet laureate program and the Arizona Cultural Data Project (CDP) Taskforce, a partnership between the Arts Commission and a diverse set of arts funders and service organizations, dedicated to gathering and presenting data to better understand the impact of Arizona’s arts sector.

“The Arizona Commission on the Arts plays an important role in service to all of Arizona,” said Mark Feldman, Managing Partner and CEO of MRA Associates and Chair of the Arizona Commission on the Arts. “As we continue to explore cross-sector synergies and ways to harness the power of the arts to positively impact Arizonans’ lives, communities, and statewide economies, we determined that Jaime is the right person to lead the charge.”

“Guided by a Sincere Commitment to Community Values… Inspired by the Optimal Possibilities”

Dempsey’s local and national colleagues have enthusiastically offered early support to her in her new post:

“Jaime is an outstanding arts and culture leader who will build on the important work Bob Booker has led throughout Arizona. As a Flinn-Brown Fellow, she exemplifies the creative state-level leadership we at the Flinn and Brown foundations are working to identify and nurture,” said Jack Jewett, President & CEO of Arizona’s Flinn Foundation. “I look forward to her future accomplishments in public service for Arizona.”

“Jaime Dempsey is an innovative strategist and a tenacious leader who delivers results,” said Casandra Hernández Faham, Curator of Celebración Artística de las Américas in Phoenix. “Her depth of experience, creative problem-solving, and passion for empowering Arizona’s arts and culture sector will lead the Arts Commission into an era of even deeper, more expansive civic impact and community responsiveness.”

Andrea Louie, Executive Director of the Asian American Arts Alliance in New York, has served alongside Dempsey on the DataArts board of directors since 2012. “All of us who work in the arts and culture sector—artists and creative professionals in particular—will be beneficiaries of Jaime Dempsey’s leadership as Executive Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts,” she said. “Her dedication as an advocate for the role of the arts in transforming communities; for advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the field; and for data-driven, evidenced-based decision-making in arts management and grantmaking is exemplary.”

According to Adriana Gallego, Chief Operating Officer of the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures, headquartered in Texas, “Jaime is a leader with a generous spectrum of qualities, all of which are guided by a sincere commitment to community values, informed by inquiries of our current moment, and inspired by the optimal possibilities of our shared future. A gifted listener and steward of Arizona’s creative potential, Jaime is an ideal choice to steer Arizona’s state arts agency.”

On the Future

Dempsey expressed her deep appreciation for the opportunity to intensify her service to Arizona, and looks forward to building upon the foundation of Booker’s dynamic leadership.

“It is a great honor to be promoted to the role of Executive Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts in the agency’s 50th anniversary year, and in particular as the NextAZ initiative gets underway,” she said. “NextAZ’s very premise is a belief in Arizona’s creative potential, the boundless imagination of its residents, and a desire to leverage Arizona’s unique creative assets – some recognized, some yet undiscovered – for even greater community impact.”

Dempsey added: “I grew up in Arizona and continue to find inspiration in its big skies, potent sunlight, and resourceful people. I believe creativity thrives here. And I can’t wait to imagine Arizona’s creative future, with you.”

About the Arizona Commission on the Arts

One of 56 state and jurisdictional arts agencies across the United States, the Arizona Commission on the Arts is a 50-year-old agency of the State of Arizona and a leading force in the creative and professional development of Arizona’s arts sector. Through robust programs, research initiatives, and strategic grantmaking, the Arts Commission catalyzes arts-based partnerships that strengthen Arizona communities through the arts.

We imagine an Arizona where everyone can participate in and experience the arts.

# # #

For more information on the Arizona Commission on the Arts, visit or contact Steve Wilcox, Communications Director, Arizona Commission on the Arts, at (602) 771-6536 or

To request this or any other agency publication in an alternative format, contact the Arts Commission offices at (602) 771-6502.

Images available upon request.