A group of people, some holding certificates, smiles for the camera.

Jean Tokuda Irwin Receives NASAA DEI Award

We’re thrilled that our Arts Education Manager, Jean Tokuda Irwin, was recently honored with the 2022 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Individual Award from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). Jean truly incorporates our agency’s values of collaboration, openness, and excellence in all her work.

Claudia Borjas, our former Arts Education coordinator and Utah’s first Poetry Out Loud champion, wrote of Jean: “For children in the classrooms, incarcerated youth, and ethnic diversity, her accomplishments are innumerable. All because of her sincere and genuine care. She’s given herself to her community, to the arts, to arts education, and DEIA. She’s a humble jewel that deserves to be applauded for the change she’s creating and for the impact she’s making in lives that are sometimes ignored and left behind.”

Jerry Rapier, director of Plan-B Theatre and the first person of color to lead a professional arts organization in Utah, said of Jean: “Over the past 22 years, myriad white arts leaders have turned to me to help them navigate their understanding (or lack thereof) of DEI. These well-intentioned folks don’t consider the weight of their request, or that they’re not the only person asking for my help, or that I can’t lighten their load, or that maybe they shouldn’t be asking me in the first place. Frankly, it’s overwhelming. And there is only one person here in Utah who truly understands that weight, to whom I am able to turn for advice and guidance here in Utah. That person is Jean.”

Jean did not become a champion of DEI because it was in vogue to do so; she did so because of her own lived experiences. She asks the hard questions, but she is also ready to provide the answers. She works tirelessly. She attends more performances and gallery exhibitions than anyone else on our staff, and she does so because she is passionate and committed.

Jean is a force for good. She has been an incredible mentor and example to all of us at Utah Arts & Museums. She is truly humble and deserving of this award. Her heart has driven her actions. She has never sought recognition. Our board, our staff, our entire agency, are so grateful for her leadership.

Here is Jean’s heartfelt and moving acceptance speech, delivered at NASAA Assembly 2022.