2020 NASAA Leadership Awards: Distinguished Public Service Award

Nola Ruth

Council Member and Former Chair, Missouri Arts Council

The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) has named Nola Ruth, former chair and current council member of the Missouri Arts Council, the recipient of its 2020 Distinguished Public Service Award. The award honors volunteer leaders of the state arts agency field whose outstanding service, creative thinking and leadership significantly impact public support for the arts in their state and across the country.

Nola’s arts leadership started 40 years ago in her community of Columbia, Missouri, where she founded and led a local arts agency. She also served on the board of Missouri Citizens for the Arts, eventually becoming regional vice president.

For 18 years, Nola led the Missouri Association of Community Arts Agencies (MACAA), where she supported and promoted local arts agencies throughout the entire state. As director, she oversaw significant growth in the number of community based arts agencies, working to develop programs, organize convenings and offer technical assistance that strengthened the arts infrastructure throughout Missouri. Her guidance and advice helped many communities connect their heritage with the arts in meaningful ways. As a grantee of the Missouri Arts Council (MAC), she enhanced the agency’s ability to reach communities and help strengthen the arts councils that support them.

After retiring from MACAA, Nola joined the board of MAC, serving as chair for most of her tenure and providing steady leadership, especially during times of transition. She worked with governors to make the case for the agency, encouraged the Arts Council to address organizational challenges (even if unpopular), and early on supported the systemic changes necessary to create a more equitable and inclusive state agency.

In addition, Nola has served for many years on the Mid-America Arts Alliance board, as well as on National Endowment for the Arts panels for state and regional arts funding. Since 2009, she’s shared her experience and savvy with NASAA, serving on or chairing nearly every committee. In 2014 she was elected as a director of the NASAA board and was reelected for a second term in 2017. Over the span of her career, one of her most rewarding moments was when a fellow council member at MAC turned to her and said, “You taught me what public service means.”

“Nola Ruth embodies the true spirit of public service,” said NASAA President and CEO Pam Breaux. “She’s guided by a strong sense of community and a conviction that all people can and should benefit from the arts. Wherever she serves, at every level, she brings her strategic focus and work ethic to the mission. Grounded, practical, wise and supportive, Nola inspires others to bring their best to the cause. I can think of no one more deserving than Nola to receive this award based on her lifetime of service to the arts, state agencies and NASAA.”

Previous Distinguished Public Service Award Recipients

2018 Molly Leach Pratt, Tennessee
2016 Bruce Richardson, Wyoming
2014 Bobby Kadis, North Carolina
2012 Dorothy Pierce McSweeny, District of Columbia
2010 Lucius (Lu) Ellsworth, Virginia
2008 Margaret “Peggy” Kannenstine, Vermont
2007 David “White Thunder” Trottier, North Dakota
2006 Delores C. Fery, Idaho
2005 Margaret “Tog” Newman, North Carolina
2004 William Davis, West Virginia
2003 Judith Ann Rapanos, Michigan
2002 Dr. Oscar E. Remick, Michigan, Pennsylvania & New York
2001 Barbara S. Robinson, Ohio
2000 Carol Brown, Pennsylvania

2020 Leadership Awards Task Force

CHAIR: Bruce Richardson, Former Chair, Wyoming
Tina Betz, Council Member, Delaware
Anne Bown-Crawford, Executive Director, California
Michael Donovan, Executive Director, Missouri
Fritz Jellinghaus, Chair, Connecticut
Kim Konikow, Executive Director, North Dakota
Kevin Miller, Chair, Wisconsin
Randall Rosenbaum, Executive Director, Rhode Island
Sandi Sanders, Chair, Arkansas
Sandy Shaughnessy, Division Director, Florida