EACH YEAR, the National Endowment for the Arts awards thousands of grants to organizations and individuals throughout the nation. To celebrate our 50th anniversary, we created this timeline to feature some of the stellar projects and artists the NEA has supported in its first 50 years. Find a year in any decade and read about a project, arts organization, or artist that we supported that year. Complete lists of grants can be found in the Annual Reports from 1965-1997 and on our Recent Grant Search page from 1998 to the present.
Every state has a designated
state arts agency to qualify for NEA funding
On September 29, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed P.L. 89-209, the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, in the Rose Garden of the White House. This piece of legislation established the National Endowment on the Arts and the Humanities Foundation as an umbrella for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and their respective councils. On this occasion, President Johnson said: "Art is a nation's most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish."
This new law was the fruit of two presidents, several senators and representatives, and four previous pieces of legislation. Separate bills had been introduced, in previous years, into the House by Representative Frank Thompson (D-NJ), and into the Senate by Senators Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) and Jacob Javits (R-NY). Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI) had overseen hearings on some of this preliminary legislation, beginning in October 1963, before the death of President John F. Kennedy.
With Roger L. Stevens appointed as its first chairman, the NEA began its first fiscal year with a budget of $2.5 million dollars and fewer than a dozen employees. Six programs were started in that first year: Music, Dance, Literature, Visual Arts, Theater, and Education—while some 22 institutions and 135 individual artists were funded by the agency. Mr. Stevens remarked, "We believe that the time has come for our society to give not merely ceremonial honor to the arts, but genuine attention and substantive support."
In the new agency’s first action, the NEA responded to an emergency grant request for $100,000 from the American Ballet Theatre, which was in critical need of immediate assistance. On December 20, 1965, Vice President Hubert Humphrey presented the first check issued by the federal government in direct support of the arts, assuring the continued operation of one of the country’s best existing full-scale dance companies. The New York Herald Tribune reported: "The Treasury of the United States has saved a national treasure. Not directly, perhaps, but the taxpayers, through the government's recently established National Council on the Arts, saved the American Ballet Theatre from extinction."
In June 1966, a $29,000 grant supported the Festival of the Performing Arts of the American Indian produced by the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). Set to a musical composition titled Sipapu after an Indian religious myth, the show drew national attention to the cultural and historical significance of the American Indian. The performance ran for four days in the 5,000-seat Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Washington, DC. Seventy-five Native-American performers representing more than 31 tribes participated.
A true cross-disciplinary effort, the festival showcased the talent of staff and students from nearly every field of study at the Institute of American Indian Arts. IAIA director Lloyd Kiva New headed up the production, while IAIA drama instructor Rolland Meinholtz served as artistic director. The show premiered modern dance choreography by Blackfoot choreographer Rosalie Jones set to the music of Cherokee composer and pianist Louis Ballard. Neil Parsons designed the set. Drawing from the stories of Coyote, a common Indian symbol, the performance narrative focused on the ways of nature and the Native-American religious myth of the evolution of man. More than 200 Native-American performers of various styles and disciplines from tribes across the nation joined the IAIA students. The festival showcased both the range and diversity of the American Indian performing arts.
At a time when native arts in particular were not widely accessible to the general public, the 1966 event provided key exposure and support for Native-American arts, and IAIA in particular. In her memoir, Jones wrote, “…the production Sipapu was a complete success, both culturally and financially.”
Today, the Institute of American Indian Arts remains the only four-year degree institution devoted to native and Alaskan native arts. Degree programs include those in studio arts, cinematic arts and technology, creative writing, museum studies, and indigenous liberal studies. In 2012, IAIA celebrated its 50th anniversary. To date, the school has graduated more than 3,800 native and non-native students representing 567 federally recognized tribes.
Appearing on everything from the city's letterhead to the sides of its garbage trucks, Alexander Calder's La Grande Vitesse is much more than a landmark for Grand Rapids, Michigan. It's the ubiquitous symbol of the city. "Literally and figuratively it's become the heart of the city. It's so fitting that it's bright red," said Nancy Mulnix, who first conceived the project. In 1967, Grand Rapids was building a new city hall downtown in the hopes it would help bring the blighted area back to life. Mulnix asked the NEA to help the city commission a sculpture for the plaza in front of the new building.
The Arts Endowment awarded a $45,000 grant to Grand Rapids as part of the agency's new public art initiative. Mulnix and her committee raised the additional $83,000 needed to commission, ship, and construct the new work. Alexander Calder, one of America's preeminent artists, was chosen to create the first civic sculpture jointly financed by federal and private funds. The NEA went on to fund almost 700 other works as part of its $15 million public art project. In May 1969, Calder's 42-ton work arrived in Grand Rapids in a series of enormous crates. A huge crane lifted the 27 separate sections so they could be bolted into place. The whole process took five days. "It created a kind of a circus atmosphere," Mulnix remembered. "It was all laid out like a jigsaw puzzle. It was fascinating for people to watch this big object grow before their very eyes. The sparks flew as the welders worked and then the vivid color was painted on. It was like outdoor theater."
Literally translated, La Grande Vitesse means "the great swiftness." The work—standing 54 feet long, 43 feet high, and 30 feet wide—was designed to provide dramatically different views from each corner of the square. Although the sculpture is stationary, it gives the appearance of movement. The Calder had a dramatic impact on Grand Rapids, Mulnix said. "I thought it could function as an icebreaker does out on the Great Lakes in early February. It proved to be true; the Calder energized the community and made anything seem possible." It sparked the city's interest in other arts activities, she added. A new home for the art museum, a civic theater, and a symphony hall were soon built. The Calder sculpture's birthday is celebrated with an annual arts festival, encompassing ten city blocks and attended by half a million people. "It changed the role of the arts and public sculpture in the life of this community because of the sheer magnitude of La Grande Vitesse and the excitement surrounding it, as well as all the work the community did to bring it here," noted city historian Gordon Olson. "It led to a change in attitude so that the assumption now is that every good community project should include a piece of public art."
When Bell Laboratories put its building at West and Bethune Streets in New York's Greenwich Village up for sale in 1966, the building already had a storied past. It had witnessed the development of radar and the transistor and had been the proving ground for early experiments in film and television. Local community activists were interested in the building as low-cost housing for a new generation of experimenters and innovators—New York City artists. The group approached the Arts Endowment and the J.M. Kaplan Foundation for funding to support the building's purchase. Each organization contributed $750,000, and the building was purchased in July 1967 (NEA’s fiscal year 1968) for a total price of $2.5 million. For more than 40 years since Westbeth opened for mixed residential and commercial use in 1969, artists such as choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham, photographer Diane Arbus, and poet Muriel Ruekeyser have lived and worked at Westbeth, helping to make it one of the largest artist colonies in the world.
Today Westbeth comprises 383 units for living and working. Westbeth's architect, Richard Meier, received a 1971 honor award from the American Institute of Architects for his redesign of the former industrial space. The complex includes performing and visual arts studios; a gallery; theaters; film, photography, and recording studios; a communal print shop; sculpture studio; and a community multipurpose space.
Admission to Westbeth is highly competitive. There is waiting list of approximately 10-12 years for an apartment, and as of 2014, Westbeth is still not accepting new applications.
Westbeth has weathered several storms during its four-plus decades, including a divisive rent strike in the 1970s and a controversial attempt to turn the building into a co-op in the 1980s. The building's look also has changed: Many of Meier's colorful internal spaces have been painted a uniform white, an outdoor fountain has become a garden, and the neoclassical façade has acquired Victorian gingerbread trimmings. Still Westbeth remains an active, vibrant community, no less a place for innovation and exploration than the day in 1937 that Bell Labs mathematician George Stibitz arrived at work carrying a homemade computer made of breadboard, bulbs, batteries, old tobacco tins, and discarded telephone relays.
Jazz composer and musician George Russell first achieved notice in the jazz world with his compositions and arrangements, notably for Dizzy Gillespie’s big band (“Cubana Be, Cubana Bop”), Lee Konitz (“Ezz-thetic”), and Buddy DeFranco (“A Bird in Igor’s Yard”) in the late 1940s/early 1950s. He was also working on his music theory, the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization—the first major musical theory to come out of jazz, which would be published in 1953.
After putting out an intriguing array of music in the early 1960s—including classics Ezz-Thetics, Jazz in the Space Age, The Stratus Seekers, and The Outer View—he grew disenchanted by the music business and moved to Europe. Russell arrived back in the United States in 1969 after five years in Scandinavia, where he had been acquiring fame for his large-scale compositions. Gunther Schuller had offered him a chance to teach at the newly created jazz studies department of the New England Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts. At the same time, he was continuing to develop his Lydian Chromatic Concept as well as form his own groups to play his compositions.
In 1969, Russell applied for and was awarded a grant from the recently formed National Endowment for the Arts to support his work—it was the first grant in the jazz field that the NEA awarded. Russell would receive additional grants from the NEA, as well as an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship in 1990, and the agency’s faith in his work was not misplaced.
By 1969, Russell’s modal theory had a major impact on jazz, influencing the recordings of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s Blue Train, among others. During the 1970s and 1980s, his large-scale pieces such as Living Time and The African Game won critical praise and earned him Grammy nominations. He toured nationally and internationally with the International Living Time Orchestra, a group of American and British musicians that he put together. He received a MacArthur Foundation grant in 1989.
Russell passed away in 2009, but his music and his theory are still recognized today as some of the most powerful work in jazz.
Congress requires at least 20% of program funds
go to state and regional arts agencies
In 1983, Alice Walker became the first African-American woman writer to win the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Walker received the honor for her third novel, The Color Purple, which also garnered the American Book Award. The novel was later adapted into an Oscar-nominated film, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey.
More than a decade before the publication of The Color Purple, Walker was one of 41 emerging writers to receive an NEA Discovery Award in Literature. The Discovery awards preceded the adoption of the blind panel system, and these grants were awarded based on financial need as well as artistic quality. Walker used her grant to complete her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Upon its publication, the Chicago Daily News called the novel "a most promising first novel, and an unusual book to come from a young black writer." Walker has since published more than 30 books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
Born in February 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia, Walker was the youngest of eight children. She became active in Georgia's Civil Rights movement before leaving home to attend Atlanta's Spelman College. Her activism was discouraged at Spelman, so Walker transferred to New York's Sarah Lawrence College, graduating in 1964. At Sarah Lawrence, Walker's poetry was championed by poet Muriel Rukeyser, who helped the young writer publish her first book of poems, Once.
In 1970, the same year as her NEA grant and the publication of her first novel, Walker started a short story on voodoo. In her research she came across Mules and Men by the early 20th-century African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston. The discovery of Mules and Men led Walker to Their Eyes Were Watching God, which she considered—along with Jean Toomer's Cane—one of the most influential books of her life. Walker became an advocate of the late writer's works, editing a volume of Hurston's prose in 1979 and even locating Hurston's unmarked grave in a Florida cemetery and paying to install a headstone. Ms. magazine published Walker's article about her quest for Hurston's burial spot, thereby reigniting interest in Hurston's work.
In addition to the Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award, Walker's honors and awards include Guggenheim and Merrill Fellowships, a fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute, a National Book Award nomination, and numerous honorary doctorates.
It's a museum on wheels, chugging through America bringing art to isolated pockets of the country—Artrain USA. Since 1971, it's visited more than 850 communities in 45 states and the District of Columbia, bringing a wide range of exhibitions to more than 3.2 million people. Artrain doesn't own a permanent collection but borrows artworks from museums and other institutions, so that it can change shows every two or three years.
Founded by the Michigan Council for the Arts, its original, rather modest mission was to bring the arts to isolated areas of its own state for a two-year period. The Arts Council recruited Helen Milliken, the governor's wife, to help raise the $850,000 necessary to make Artrain a reality.
"At the very start we knew we needed seed money to get it off the ground," Milliken said. So she paid a visit to Nancy Hanks, who was then chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Hanks was immediately fascinated by the project, and her advocacy helped get Artrain moving.
"It was tremendously important to have the backing of the NEA when we went to businesses and major industries asking for funding," Milliken explained. "It was the key; we couldn't have raised that kind of money without that initial boost." Milliken used her position to arrange Artrain's first national tour to eight of the Rocky Mountain states. The Arts Endowment provided a grant to cover half the trip's costs with the host states picking up the other half.
Wherever it stopped, Artrain acted as a community catalyst, encouraging the formation of local and regional arts councils, bolstering arts education programs, and spurring downtown revitalization and railroad station renovations.
Since retiring its train museum in 2007, Artrain is now applying its methodologies to cultural offerings of all kinds—visual and performing arts, science, history, and culture—using specially designed mobile museum units, new technologies, and updated community-building programs to reach people in Michigan, throughout the United States, and, for the first time in 2012, Canada.
In 2012, Artrain helped produce CriticCar Detroit, which travels around the city inviting citizen critics—from first-timers to experts—to provide reviews of arts and cultural events. The project was started through an NEA/Knight Foundation Community Arts Journalism Challenge grant.
In 1972, NEA Chairman Nancy Hanks developed the Federal Design Improvement program, a four-pronged plan for upgrading federal design. As noted in the Arts Endowment's 1972 annual report, the first part of the plan was that "the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities…will sponsor annual design assemblies for federal administrators and artists." More than 1,000 federal officials and designers attended the first Federal Design Assembly in April 1973. The Arts Endowment hosted four such assemblies to foster relationships between federal agencies and the design world.
The Federal Graphics Improvement program, active from 1972 to 1981, was a second component of the Federal Design Improvement program. A panel of prestigious graphic designers convened to critique the graphics of participating federal agencies. Ultimately, more than 45 government agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Postal Service, revamped their graphics under this mandate.
A third component of the program was the Federal Architecture Project, spearheaded by the Task Force on Federal Architecture. Notable members of the task force included prolific mid-20th century designer Charles Eames and Harry Weese, the designer of DC's Metro stations. As a result of the task force's efforts Congress passed the Public Buildings Cooperative Use Act in 1976, which addressed the underuse of federal buildings and the need for those buildings to be better integrated into their communities. In 1983 President Ronald Reagan inaugurated the Presidential Design Awards program based on an earlier task force recommendation. These awards were for public-funded projects only and were awarded five times between 1984 and 2000. (In 1997, the NEA established a partnership with the U.S. General Services Administration [GSA] to administer the awards.)
A fourth component of the Arts Endowment's plan for the Federal Design Improvement Program involved a review of the guidelines for "rating and employing artists for federal service." The NEA and the GSA convened a team of advisors, including architects Hugh Hardy and Margaret McCurry. The GSA's focus on design, initiated with the guidelines review, eventually grew into the GSA's Design Excellence program, which is credited with dramatically improving the quality of federal architecture.
Though Alaska had been one of the major world centers of native art and expression—in the 18th century certain areas of Alaska were the most densely populated areas of the New World—many in Anchorage, the state’s capital, had never seen native Alaskan objects displayed publically. That changed in 1973, when the NEA funded a touring exhibition, The Far North: 2000 Years of American Eskimo and Indian Art, to be shown at the Alaska Museum of History and Art in Anchorage throughout the summer. The Anchorage public was introduced to the rich artistic heritage of Alaska’s indigenous people, from early Inuit ivory carvings to 19th-century Yupik spirit masks.
The exhibition, put together by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, included 365 objects representing the native cultures of Alaska and the Northwest coast, such as masks, helmets, chests, ceremonial headdresses and gowns, and carved ivories from prehistoric times to the end of the 19th century. Loans came from national collections in Russia, Finland, Denmark, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, and Ireland, in addition to 23 museums in the United States and Canada.
In the installation, designed by Gaillard Ravenel, forest and coastal settings were recreated using weathered wood from an old barn, bark, wood chips, and pebbles. Sepia photographs of the areas from which the objects originated also were shown. The exhibition was shown at the National Gallery from March 8 to May 15, 1973.
The first conception of the exhibition was proposed in 1968 by National Council on the Arts member René d'Harnoncourt, who earlier had organized the first large show of Indian arts at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The idea was promoted by Mitchell Wilder, director of the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art in Fort Worth, Texas, where the exhibit toured after visiting Anchorage and Portland, Oregon.
For millions of Americans, the names Guy Noir, Lake Wobegon, and Powdermilk Biscuits are part of their cultural lexicon, thanks to the long-running Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) show A Prairie Home Companion. Hosted by writer and raconteur Garrison Keillor, the show is a medley of music, stories, skits, faux commercials, and jokes. One of the show's most popular segments is "The News from Lake Wobegon," Keillor's improvised monologue about current events in a fictional Minnesota town where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." In addition to a regular cast of actors and musicians, Keillor's guests range from musicians to newspaper columnists to Hollywood favorites.
Keillor, whose folksy wit sets the tone for A Prairie Home Companion, credits a 1976 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for supporting the growth of the program, which started as an MPR morning show in the early 1970s.
"A grant from the NEA enabled us to start A Prairie Home Companion in Minnesota. Help which was crucial, because the show was not that great to start with, we had 12 people in the audience for our first broadcast, and we made the mistake of having an intermission and lost half of them," he recounted.
Keillor was familiar with the benefits of Arts Endowment funding, having earned his first paycheck as a professional writer with a $300 Writers in the Schools residency grant from the agency in 1969. According to Keillor, the grant convinced him that it was possible to make a living as a writer. Since then, in addition to A Prairie Home Companion, his career has included a staff writer position at The New Yorker and the publication of several books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
In 1987, Keillor briefly decided to end the show, but resurrected it two years later as the American Radio Company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. In 1992, the flourishing show returned home to Minnesota and its original moniker. Today A Prairie Home Companion has approximately four million listeners worldwide on more than 500 public radio stations as well as Sirius XM Satellite Radio, America One, and the Armed Forces Networks.
Acclaimed director Robert Altman helmed a film adaptation of A Prairie Home Companion in 2006. Keillor wrote and starred in the film, which featured Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson, and Lily Tomlin.
Priceless canvases painted by Picasso, fragile terra cotta warriors from ancient China, a gilded baroque silver tea service used by nobility in one of Russia’s most opulent palaces. These and other irreplaceable objects have been carefully packed in crates and shipped around the globe so that the American people can enjoy them and marvel at the cultures that created such astonishing works. Given the tremendous value of these objects, their owners require insurance prior to shipping. That’s where the government steps in.
The Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program was created by Congress in 1975 for the purpose of minimizing the costs of insuring international exhibitions. The program, administered by the National Endowment for the Arts on behalf of the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities, has indemnified more than 1,200 exhibitions, saving the organizers more than $417 million in insurance premiums. The program has a substantial impact on the country's museums, large and small. "We would not have been able to mount the number of foreign shows we do without the indemnity program. It would really limit our options because the insurance costs would just be prohibitive," said Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, DC. "Because of this program, members of the public get to experience tremendous works of art that they wouldn’t normally be able to see unless they could travel to the countries of origin. That’s out of reach for most Americans."
Many of the indemnified exhibitions provide the only public access to rare items. For example, in the case of the NGA’s exhibition Sculpture of Angkor and Ancient Cambodia: Millennium of Glory, virtually all of the objects came from sites that were inaccessible for many years due to unrest and war. Besides making rare works of art more accessible, the program has also encouraged museums to take better care of their precious possessions. "Because of its strict guidelines," said Powell, "the packing and shipping standards have been upgraded and now even serve as a model to the European institutions."
Due to the overwhelming success of the program, in 2007 the act was amended to include domestic exhibitions, providing coverage for works of art owned by U.S. entities while on exhibition in the United States.
On January 30, 1976, public television viewers nationwide had the best seats in the house at New York City's Lincoln Center as PBS broadcast the first episode of Live From Lincoln Center. Nominated for three Emmy awards, the two-hour program featured Andre Previn conducting the New York Philharmonic, with guest pianist Van Cliburn. The repertoire included Berlioz, Grieg, and Strauss, and at intermission New York Philharmonic President Carlos Moseley interviewed Previn backstage.
The National Endowment for the Arts supported the creation of Live From Lincoln Center—in partnership with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—with a public media grant of $200,000. Since then, the Arts Endowment has continued to support the series, giving the public front-row views of performances by legends such as tenor Luciano Pavarotti, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, NEA Jazz Masters Ron Carter and Slide Hampton, and dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.
The NEA's support for the series has not been limited to programming. With assistance from an NEA grant, John Goberman, the series' executive producer, developed cameras sensitive to low levels of light. These new cameras allowed each show to be lit for live performance rather than with the high wattage required for television broadcast. "We're not here to turn the stage into a studio," said Goberman. "We're actually bending the technology to fit the performance. The less interference with the performance, the better…so it doesn't feel like there's a third presence in the house."
Approximately six major Lincoln Center performances are televised each year. Through Live From Lincoln Center programming, the broadcast audience has witnessed many historic performances, including the farewell recital of famed opera diva Beverly Sills and the centennial celebration of the prestigious Juilliard School. In the program's first season, on June 30, 1976, Live From Lincoln Center presented American Ballet Theater's Swan Lake, the first live telecast of a full-length ballet on American television.
Produced in cooperation with Thirteen/WNET in New York, Live From Lincoln Center is the only live performing arts series on television, and has won 13 Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, and two Grammy Awards, among many others. The program has been seen by hundreds of millions of viewers since its debut.
The Spoleto Festival USA is one of the world’s premiere arts festivals, drawing 70,000 to 80,000 spectators for 17 days and nights each spring to Charleston, South Carolina. The only arts festival hosted by an entire American city, Spoleto Festival USA features more than 120 concerts and performances by established and emerging artists from the U.S. and abroad. Spoleto offers many artistic styles and forms, including classical ballet, modern dance, opera, chamber, symphonic, and choral music, jazz, theater, and the literary and visual arts.
The world-renowned arts celebration started in 1977, when the Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of Two Worlds) in Spoleto, Italy, set up an American counterpart with help from the National Endowment for the Arts. The next year, the NEA provided $50,000 for administrative and artistic expenses for musical performances, along with $35,000 for audience development and $25,000 for a television recording of Samuel Barber’s opera, Vanessa. In 1979, the NEA granted $7,000 for a Spoleto mini-festival in Charleston. The American festival became independent of its Italian parent in 1993, and the NEA has remained a significant and steady supporter.
Since its inception, the festival has hosted more than 200 world or American premieres—from Praise House by Urban Bush Women to the Spoleto-commissioned Tenebrae, a chamber music work by Osvaldo Golijov—and noteworthy presentations such as the monumental, 18½-hour Chinese opera, The Peony Pavilion. Festival performances take place throughout the city in churches, theaters, and other public spaces.
Piccolo Spoleto, the outreach arm of the festival, provides low- and no-cost performing, literary, and visual arts events in a range of community settings. Each year, Piccolo Spoleto presents hundreds of events showcasing artists from the southeast region.
Spoleto Festival USA has helped transform Charleston into a thriving tourist destination. Since the festival began, the city’s annual visitation has increased threefold; each year, attendees spend an estimated $44 million in the Charleston area, per a 2005 study. Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. concluded: “If we invest more in the arts, we will get a high return in terms of the economic and physical and social development of our cities.”
There is a phrase in Japanese that has no exact English translation. Koi no Yokan most accurately describes the feeling one gets upon meeting someone who they know they will one day fall in love with, even though they are not now in love. It is a good way to describe how artists sometimes feel when participating in the NEA’s program, the U.S./Japan Creative Artists Program, created in 1978 in partnership with the Japan-United States Friendship Commission (JUSFC).
Through the program, five artists are sent to spend three months in Japan, starting at the International House of Japan in Tokyo and being free to travel throughout the country. The goal of the program is cultural understanding between the countries, focusing on a creative exchange of ideas beyond borders. The artists determine how to spend their independent residency, but receive logistical support from the International House.
NEA National Heritage Fellow PJ Hirabayashi participated in the project to explore her art form, taiko, in its homeland. She planned to connect with artists from three communities—Ainu, Okinawa, and Buraku—to explore how they use the art form to empower themselves.
Sculptor Sheri Simons participated in 2006 to research o-mikoshi, or portable shrines used in community festivals, but ended up becoming immersed in the Japanese culture. “It was slowly dawning on me that although I’d gone to Japan to research the construction and usage of these portable shrines, I was becoming more interested in them as mnemonic markers of experience and the transmission of a communal sense of space…. ‘festival’ is actually another form of community experience.”
Since this program has begun, more than 160 artists have traveled across the ocean to partake in the Japanese artistic and cultural experience. As JUSFC Assistant Executive Director Margaret Mihori noted, “The fellows under this program have comprised a steady stream of arts exchange that continues to operate long after individual fellowships are over. The enrichment of each artist and through them, the community, continues to multiply year after year.”
Ignatius Reilly, the anti-hero of John Kennedy Toole's tragicomic novel A Confederacy of Dunces, is one of the most memorable characters in American literature. Yet when Toole committed suicide in 1969, the novel was still in manuscript, having been rejected by numerous publishers. It wasn't until more than a decade later that the novel was published, thanks to vigorous lobbying efforts by Toole's mother Thelma.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Toole penned most of A Confederacy of Dunces while stationed with the army in Puerto Rico, where he taught English to Spanish-speaking recruits. After Toole's death, Thelma Toole continued to send the manuscript to various publishers. The project was seen as a bad commercial risk, however, because the author was not available to publicize the book and no future novels were forthcoming. Finally, in 1976, Mrs. Toole showed the smeared and fading manuscript to novelist Walker Percy who was then teaching at Loyola. Percy in turn recommended it for publication to the Louisiana State University Press (LSUP), which had just started to publish literary fiction.
One of the oldest university presses in the U.S., LSUP applied to the Arts Endowment for a grant to help with the publishing costs for the novel. The press received a grant of $3,500, and the novel was finally published in 1980. In the first year alone, the novel sold more than 50,000 copies. Toole also was awarded the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction posthumously, beating out fellow finalists Frederick Buechner and William Maxwell. A Confederacy of Dunces has since been published worldwide in 18 languages, and there are nearly two million copies in print.
A Confederacy of Dunces continues to be recognized as a classic American novel and a canonical work of modern Southern literature. As a Rolling Stone reviewer once wrote, "A Confederacy of Dunces has been reviewed almost everywhere, and every reviewer has loved it. For once, everyone is right."
NEA moves into the Old Post Office
Building, renamed the Nancy Hanks Center
Eliot Feld, director of the Feld Ballet, had a problem. Rising debt incurred from expensive New York City theater rentals threatened the survival of his burgeoning dance company. Moreover, the theaters that did exist were ill-suited for dance performance. As early as 1970, Feld dreamt of a permanent dance venue for his company. In 1978, the opportunity finally arrived.
The Elgin Theater, once a popular movie cinema in the Chelsea area of New York, was reduced to showing adult movies for its income by the 1970s, prompting neighborhood protests that forced its closure. In 1978, the Elgin Theater went up for sale. Feld and his co-director Cora Cahan immediately began to seek financial support to purchase and renovate the building.
In 1980, the NEA Dance and Design programs jointly awarded a $105,000 grant for the initial demolition and reconstruction costs of the project. The agency was also key in helping Feld secure the rest of the project funding. The agency acted as an advocate to other government bodies such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Commerce. The Arts Endowment also indirectly served as a symbol of the project’s importance to other investors. As one New York Times reporter later commented, although the private sector served as Feld’s primary funding source, private donors committed only after the government demonstrated its support.
The Elgin Theater underwent a $3.5 million facelift and became the Joyce Theater, named after the daughter of a primary benefactor. At a yearly rental rate of just $1, the Joyce has provided a permanent home for Feld’s company, now called Ballet Tech, and a comfortable space for hundreds of other traveling dance troupes.
Today, the Joyce remains one of the foremost dance venues in the world, having hosted more than 270 national and international dance companies since its inception. Each year, the theater also holds free dance performances for more than 5,000 students. The intimate 472-seat theater has become a beloved fixture among dance aficionados who make up an annual audience of approximately 140,000 people.
In November 1980, the National Council on the Arts, the NEA’s advisory body, approved a funding request from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to support a competition to select the design team for the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. This competition was ultimately won by Maya Lin, then an undergraduate student at Yale University, who had taken on the project as part of a school design studio.
The memorial's design was selected through a national design competition open to all U.S. citizens. Ultimately, 1,421 design entries were submitted and then judged anonymously by a jury of eight internationally recognized artists and designers. Construction of the 247-foot wall began on March 16, 1982, and was completed in October. Today, there are more than 58,000 names engraved on the wall; each was etched by a computer using a process called photo stencil grit blasting. The special granite came from quarries in Bangalore, India and was cut in Vermont.
Although the memorial was initially met with heavy criticism and reluctance from both the general public and veterans, Lin’s winning design now is widely considered one of the best public memorials built in the last century. The design is modern and simple: a long slash of polished black granite set below ground level, where visitors descend to read the names of the dead in ever taller columns, and then slowly ascend as the list dwindles. Flags and letters are routinely left as markers, and visitors often rub the imprint of a cherished name onto a piece of paper.
Robert Doubek, who served as an Air Force intelligence officer in Vietnam in 1969 and was co-founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, noted, “The memorial was designed to stimulate emotion and reflection. Visitors find themselves swept up in it, surrounded by it. It’s helped millions of people to come to terms with their experiences and sacrifices and has helped them to move on with their lives.” The memorial has become one of the most visited sites in Washington, DC.
Over the previous decade, efforts had been made to better honor some of the precious cultural traditions and art forms that had helped form American life. In particular, jazz—a musical art form created in the United States that often reflected American life and was used diplomatically to spread American values worldwide, and the folk arts—taking the traditions of immigrant cultures and melding them into our own, to expand the cultural palette of the country.
In 1982, plans were finalized to create new lifetime honors awards in these two fields: the NEA National Heritage Fellowships and the American Jazz Masters Fellowships (later changed to NEA Jazz Masters Fellowships). These would be awards that were based on nominations from the public, not applications. The criteria were simple: awardees must be living, be citizens or permanent residents of the U.S., and demonstrate a significant contribution to the art form.
The first class for both awards certainly demonstrated that last criterion. In jazz, awards went to Roy Eldridge, one of the first virtuoso musicians after Louis Armstrong; Dizzy Gillespie, one of the pioneers of bebop and a significant composer, arranger, and bandleader (as well as a fiery trumpeter); and Sun Ra, a bandleader and composer who was able to play traditional and avant-garde jazz with equal quality and led a cadre of brilliant musicians, many who continue to perform.
In the folk arts, among the 15 awards were Dewey Balfa, renowned Louisianan Cajun fiddler; Bessie Jones, a singer from the Georgia sea islands; Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, an acoustic blues duo that had been playing since the 1940s; George López, a carver of saint images, called santos, that are common throughout Latin America and in parts of the U.S., such as New Mexico, and Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music.
In the 2000s, an advocate award was added to each honors programs. These were to be awarded to those who helped preserve, promote, and forward the art forms and traditions. The Heritage award was named after Bess Lomax Hawes, a former NEA director of Folk and Traditional Arts who helped create the awards and was a fierce advocate for the folk arts, and the Jazz Masters award was named after A.B. Spellman, whose work at the NEA and in his own writing helped to promote jazz.
What would it be like if America’s greatest films were to disappear? U.S. films before 1951 used nitrate-based film stock, and by the mid-1960s, more than half of those films had been lost due to the deterioration of the nitrate.
In 1967, the NEA had teamed with the Motion Picture Association of America and the Ford Foundation to found the American Film Institute (AFI) to preserve America’s filmic heritage. Over time, AFI activities included film exhibitions, student training and workshops, and library and scholarly services. So in 1983, the NEA partnered with AFI to create a program to focus specifically on film preservation, the AFI/NEA Film Preservation Program. The program would help organizations locate, preserve, and catalog films of artistic value that were in danger of deterioration or permanent damage.
To coordinate the preservation program on a national level, the two organizations created the National Center for Film and Video Preservation in September 1983. The center has been responsible for the development of a National Moving Image Database, researching and publishing of the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, and locating and acquiring films and television programs for inclusion in the AFI Collection of the Library of Congress—which consists of more than 27,500 films and shorts—and other archives at universities, museums, and libraries nationwide. The AFI Catalog of Feature Films is the most authoritative filmographic database on the Internet with nearly 60,000 American feature-length films and 17,000 short films produced from 1893-2011.
Among the films preserved through the program were John Ford’s Stagecoach (1949), Victor Flemings’ Joan of Arc (1948), Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), and D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916). As Robert Rosen, founding director of the National Center for Film and Video Preservation and former dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television observed, “The NEA’s effort was historically significant for supporting preservation at a time when it was not appreciated by the field and was in the vanguard for committing public resources that then encouraged the commitment of private resources for preservation.”
The National Medal of Arts is the most prestigious award bestowed by the U.S. government to artists and allies of the arts. Since its inception in 1984, the National Medal of Arts program has recognized many notable Americans for their work producing and creating art. In accordance with the multifaceted nature of the American people, the medal is awarded to a variety of individuals, encompassing a wide spectrum of artistic disciplines—unlike other arts awards, the National Medal of Arts is not limited to one particular field of art.
In 1983 the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities arranged a celebratory luncheon at the White House in which President Reagan awarded a select group of artists and patrons for their phenomenal contributions to the arts. This event was the catalyst that prompted the enactment of what we now know as the National Medal of the Arts program.
Every year following May 30, 1984, when President Reagan signed the legislation approving the program, presidents have awarded as many as 12 medals to “individuals or groups who in the President’s judgment are deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support, and availability of the arts in the United States.” The selection process begins with the National Council on the Arts (NCA) accepting nominations from the public, from which the council decides on a list to present to the president. From this list of recommendations, the White House decides on the final selection for the year’s recipients.
The National Medal of Arts itself, designed by world-renowned sculptor Robert Graham, is a piece of art. A committee of the NCA chose his design from amongst 31 other submissions.
In an age where the value of art is often unappreciated, the National Medal of Arts program seeks to honor those who share a vision of creativity and actively work toward uplifting a variety of art forms, whether in the fine arts or popular culture. Throughout the years this program has celebrated the contributions of incredible persons and organizations and continues the legacy of art appreciation.
With his ten-gallon hat, seated on horseback with lasso in hand, the fictitious cowboy has captured the popular imagination as a strong, silent type. A group of Western folklorists set about to change that stereotype.
"The image of a cowboy has strayed so far from reality through negative images in the media and in movies, the cowboys felt they didn't have a forum for the expression of their true selves," said folklorist Hal Cannon. "Cowboy poetry is a way to connect and to express a way of life that's valued."
With Arts Endowment support, Cannon and his colleagues began by surveying ranchers to identify and study contemporary cowboy poetry. Its ballad style has roots that stretch back at least to the 1860s. Since then, cowboys had been entertaining each other in bunkhouses and on trail drives with poems they'd memorized as well as with rhymes they'd made up on the spot.
The next step was to produce an event that would showcase the talent they'd unearthed. It wasn't an idea that had commercial appeal. "I approached 50 corporations and other organizations that were identified as using cowboys in their marketing and they all turned me down. Poetry wasn't something they saw as being part of the cowboy image," said Cannon. "The Cowboy Poetry Gatherings would never have happened without the Endowment. The NEA support was a very important indicator of trust and helped us to get cowboy poetry off the ground."
The first gathering in 1985, held in Elko, Nevada, drew five times the expected audience. Enthusiasm has continued to build and the gathering, presented by the Western Folklife Center, has grown into a week-long annual celebration of American cattle culture, attracting thousands of enthusiasts and adding more than $6 million to Elko's economy. Cowboy poetry's popularity in general has also multiplied, breeding books, radio programs, and more than 200 other gatherings across the country. Rancher-turned-cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell, who performed at the original gathering, recalled his initial surprise at the tremendous audience response. "I hadn't thought anyone else would be interested in cowboy poetry. It was just how we used to entertain each other, telling stories around the campfire or in the barn. I think it's found its way into the American psyche because it's pure—it touches people's hearts and imaginations."
In 2000, the U.S. Senate recognized the cultural value of this tradition and the event responsible for its renaissance when it passed a resolution renaming the Elko gathering the “National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.”
In January 1985, Mayor Joseph P. Riley of Charleston, South Carolina, wrote a letter to Jaquelin Robertson, the University of Virginia's chair of architecture, suggesting that an institute be created in which mayors would meet with prominent designers to discuss design challenges facing their cities. Subsequently, the two men visited Adele Chatfield Taylor, Design director at the NEA, and the NEA's Mayors' Institute on City Design (MICD) was born. On October 23, 1986, the first Mayors' Institute on City Design was hosted at the University of Virginia.
MICD now hosts six to eight sessions annually. Each two-and-one-half-day session on city design is organized around presentations and roundtable discussions and limited to fewer than 20 persons—half mayors and half a resource team made up of outstanding urban design and development professionals. At each meeting, participating mayors present design issues currently facing their cities, such as waterfront redevelopment, downtown revitalization, neighborhood revenue, and new public buildings such as sports or arts facilities. Following each presentation, mayors and designers identify issues, offer suggestions, and discuss alternative paths toward a solution.
Mayor Riley has noted about MICD: “Mayors come to the institute as regular people, but I promise you, they leave as zealous apostles of good urban design.”
Over the institute's 30-year history, more than 1,000 mayors from all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, and 650 design professionals have participated. Mayors who have attended credit the experience as transforming the way they look at their cities. As one alumnus, Mayor William A. Johnson, Jr., of Rochester, New York, said, "In more than 33 years of professional experience, no program or learning experience has been more beneficial to me than this one." MICD has also been recognized with a number of awards, including a Presidential Award for Design Excellence in 2000, a Progressive Architecture award from Architecture magazine in 1997, and an Institute Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1992.
The NEA currently partners with the American Architectural Foundation and the United States Conference of Mayors, with support from United Technologies, on MICD.
When Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes premiered The Rite of Spring, or Le Sacre du printemps, at Paris's Theatre des Champs-Elysees on May 29, 1913, a riot broke out. The score by Igor Stravinsky was a panoply of shifting syncopations and dissonant harmonies, while the choreography by famed danseur Vaslav Nijinsky curled the dancers' bodies inward as they jerkily stamped and jumped across the stage. Archaeologist and painter Nicholas Roerich contributed the set design and the costumes, which were described in a 2002 Ballet Magazine article as "heavy smocks, handpainted with [primitive] symbols of circles and squares." The pre-Modernist audience, accustomed to the demure grace of classical ballet, was further outraged by the graphic nature of the ballet's story—the pagan sacrifice of a virgin by her village to usher in spring. Nijinsky's ballet was performed only seven more times—in Paris and London—before disappearing from the classical repertoire for reasons including Nijinsky's mental breakdown and the deterioration of his relationship with Diaghilev.
Many new iterations of the ballet were choreographed—including versions by Pina Bausch and Martha Graham—but only the score remained intact from the initial performances. In 1987, the Joffrey Ballet received a National Endowment for the Arts grant to support “the reconstruction of Vaslav Nijinsky's Le Sacre du printemps." The reconstruction was the culmination of more than 15 years of work by Millicent Hodson, a choreographer and dance historian, and her husband Kenneth Archer, an art historian. Hodson and Archer had painstakingly pieced the ballet together from prompt books, contemporary sketches, paintings, photographs, reviews, the original costume designs, annotated scores, and interviews with eyewitnesses, such as Dame Marie Rambert, Nijinsky's assistant.
Given the innovation of Nijinsky's The Rite of Spring, it was fitting that it would be resurrected by the equally innovative Joffrey Ballet. Founded in 1956 by Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, the company's groundbreaking repertory of original works quickly distinguished it from its contemporaries. Joffrey actually had considered staging Nijinsky's version since the mid-1950s, when he had lived with Rambert while on tour in England. The Joffrey Ballet premiered The Rite of Spring in Los Angeles on September 30, 1987. The Los Angeles Times raved, "One had to applaud the impeccable continuity and dynamic logic of Nijinsky's choreography as pieced together by Hodson. One had to be grateful to Joffrey for taking us on this fascinating trip through a dark time tunnel."
Today, many consider Atlanta as the mecca of African-American art. However, the art and culture of its African-American community was not always given the respect that it so rightly deserves. Dr. Michael Lomax, the first director of Atlanta’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs, fervently sought to address this issue and in 1988 his efforts were rewarded with Atlanta holding its first National Black Arts Festival with funding in the amount of $100,000 from the NEA’s Expansion Arts program.
During Lomax’s time on the Fulton County Commission of Atlanta, the idea for the festival was birthed. As described by Lomax, “There was really no place where African Americans could see themselves and celebrate the traditions of our own creative expression.” The National Black Arts Festival was unlike other arts festivals of the time because of its racial specificity—Lomax asserted that the purpose of the festival was to counter the notion that race is of little importance. The festival was to be a celebration of the African Diaspora and comprised various forms of art, including theater, dance, visual arts, literature, music, and film.
As the planning for the first National Black Arts Festival continued, it soon acquired national attention, gaining the support of big-name celebrities such as Cicely Tyson and Harry Belafonte, who served as its first national spokespeople, and legendary writers Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka, who were part of the literary segment. With more than 350,000 people attending in 1988, the festival was considered successful enough to become an annual event in 2003, maintaining strong attendance every year. The festival also holds year-round programs to aid the communities of Atlanta, such as Youth Empowerment Series (YES), which brings art programming to schools as well as multiple workshops, film screenings, and concerts throughout the year.
In keeping with its original mission, the National Black Arts Festival portrays the multifaceted nature of African-American art, from South African boot dancing to visual art displays. In reference to the work of the festival, Neil Barclay, the current president of the National Black Arts Festival, made note of the impact of the festival, saying, “To see [children] turned on to the transformative power of art is always exciting for me…You imagine it's the moment when they go 'Oh wow, art!' That's something that they'll hopefully make a part of their lives."
The city of San Diego, California, has a unique multicultural community due to its proximity to the Mexican border, which also can create tension and issues related to immigration and cultural appropriation. To address some of those concerns, in 1989 the then-called La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art (now known as the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego) received a $250,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for a three-year, cultural-exchange project between the United States and Mexico, with a focus on the San Diego/Tijuana region.
The museum was one of only seven institutions in the country, and the only California museum, to receive awards from the NEA's Special Artistic Initiatives grant fund. The museum's grant was also the largest award, with the next highest amount, $100,000, going to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. The project, called Dos Ciudades/Two Cities, included exhibitions, residencies, commissions, publications, performances, films, symposiums, lectures, and educational activities.
Museum director Hugh Davies said, "We decided to design a project based around what we do well and are interested in, and something that addresses where we live." Project curator Madeline Grynsztejn said artists for the exhibition would be considered from the entire 1,900-mile U.S.-Mexico border. The 11-member advisory committee included artists and administrators—primarily from San Diego and Tijuana—such as Pedro Ochoa Palacio, director of the Centro Cultural Tijuana, and San Diegan Michael Schnorr, a member of the Border Arts Workshop.
The project led to a collaboration between the museum and San Diego’s Centro Cultural de la Raza, home of Border Arts Workshop. The two organizations agreed to co-curate and co-present an exhibition so as to defuse suggestions of co-opting the Centro’s border art concept. The eventual exhibition that was shown in 1993-94 was called La Frontera/The Border: Art about the Mexico/United States Border Experience and included public art projects, workshops, lectures, and symposia. The idea of the La Frontera project was to use art to stimulate discussion on what the border between the U.S. and Mexico really means to the people on both sides of it.
Artists charged with violating Congress’ “decency
clause” take the NEA to court over defunded grants
Budget is cut by 40%, staff by 47%, and
almost all individual grants are cut
Bill Ivey becomes
In 1990, the NEA and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation commissioned Images of American Dance: Documenting and Preserving a Cultural Heritage, a study aimed at providing a picture of the existing dance documentation system. To do so, the study examined the archival resources of dance companies in six American cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York City, Salt Lake City, and Washington, DC. The findings of the study led to major improvement in the dance documentation system, as well as several national campaigns to preserve the legacy of dance.
The study found that although the six sites documented dance in some form, none of the sites had a streamlined archive system. It was also clear from the findings that video technology had significantly changed the way institutions thought about dance preservation. Prior to video, shorthand notation and photography were the only available methods of dance documentation. Though video made preservation easier in some ways, the study found that access was still a primary concern. Companies debated who would be allowed to use the video and in what capacities.
Most alarming of the study’s findings was the recognition of significant gaps in the historical dance record. Whole cultures, artists, and regions were left out of the preservation network altogether, while others were only partially documented. It was clear that restoring the record of dance over time would require significant work. To this end, the study concluded that education was of primary concern—both for preservationists, to learn archival standards and methods, and for the public, to understand the importance of dance history. The study concluded that education would also play a primary role in securing the funding necessary to improve the system. The study also made recommendations for possible solutions to the problems identified.
Images of American Dance gave birth to several important dance agencies—principally among them, the Dance Heritage Coalition, which includes the dance archives of the Library of Congress and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and the New York Public Library Dance Collection. These institutions have enabled the legacy of dance to continue for future generations.
In December 1991, the Metropolitan Opera premiered its first new opera since 1967 with support from the NEA under the New American Works/Organization program. This program was designed to enable organizations to produce contemporary work, to encourage companies to incorporate new work into their repertory, and to make audiences more aware and appreciative of them. The Ghosts of Versailles by John Corigliano and William Hoffman was commissioned in 1980 in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Metropolitan Opera.
Nearly every performance of The Ghosts of Versailles sold out in the opening week of the production. The premiere featured sopranos Teresa Stratas and Renée Fleming, mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne (2009 NEA Opera Honoree), baritones Gino Quilico and Hakan Hagegard, as well as the Metropolitan Orchestra and Chorus conducted by James Levine (2008 NEA Opera Honoree).
The idea of The Ghosts of Versailles started over a dinner conversation in 1979 with Levine in which Corigliano was inspired to compose a new piece based on a familiar set of opera characters. The Ghosts of Versailles was John Corigliano’s first opera, and although the work was originally slated to premier in 1983, Hoffman and Corigliano collaborated on the project for seven years before it was completed. The story weaves together the ghosts of the court of Louis XVI, the playwright Beaumarchais, and the cast of characters from his Figaro plays. Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, the work features an opera within an opera. The music draws inspiration from famous Mozart and Rossini scores.
When it finally debuted in 1991, The Ghosts of Versailles was generally well received among critics and audiences. New York Times critic Edward Rothstein said in his review of the opera, “‘Ghosts has brought camp humor, post-modern pastiche, parody and effulgent tonal nostalgia into the Met. The opera intends to be all things to many people, a tale, one might say, of many cities, told in many styles.”
The production was later broadcast over the Met’s International Radio Network and telecast over Live from the Met. Graham Clark was nominated for an Emmy Award for his performance as Bégearss in the 1992 televised performance of the work. The work has also been restaged and performed by other opera companies, including Chicago Lyric Company and Los Angeles Opera.
String quartets were a rarity in the small town of Jesup, Iowa (population approximately 2,500). In fact, many people had grown up in Jesup without ever hearing the sound of a cello or viola being played live. An NEA program changed all that.
Because residents of Jesup and many other rural communities seldom have the opportunity to experience live music concerts or to learn from professional musicians, the Arts Endowment designed the Chamber Music Rural Residencies program. In addition to benefiting the communities, the residencies provided young, emerging musicians the opportunity to hone their performance and teaching skills. Begun in 1992 in partnership with Chamber Music America, the program matched musicians with rural host sites, where they provided school instruction, workshops, private lessons, and community concerts.
Members of the Ying Quartet, which had won several major competitions, were finishing their formal studies at the Eastman School of Music in 1992. They were looking for an opportunity to gain performance experience, add to their repertoire, and share their understanding of music with uninitiated listeners.
In Jesup, Iowa, Superintendent of Schools Mike Krum, along with a local arts council, the Cedar Arts Forum, leapt at the opportunity to engage the quartet in a residency. "The program was a fresh, new idea, and we purposely selected a string ensemble because it wasn't familiar to our community. Many in Jesup had never heard live string players before," Krum explained. "We struck gold with the Yings."
The Ying Quartet consists of siblings Timothy and Janet on violin, David on cello, and Phillip on viola. "The two years we spent in Jesup as part of the Rural Residency Initiative is without question one of the most significant experiences in our musical lives," said Phillip.
The ensemble performed in Jesup area schools and colleges, church services, homes, local businesses, civic clubs, and senior homes and taught lessons and workshops to children and adults. They also grew to feel like members of the community.
The Ying Quartet has earned an outstanding national and international reputation over the last couple of decades. The ensemble is now the quartet-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music and frequently teaches at the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick, Maine and at the Aspen Music Festival. According to Phillip, "The Rural Residency was a launching pad for our subsequent career."
Houston artist Rick Lowe had a dream. The transforming power of the arts would be used to rebuild an impoverished neighborhood and, in the process, help rebuild the lives of its citizens. That was back in 1993. Since then, a predominantly African-American, underserved community in Houston, Texas, has become home to Project Row Houses. This unprecedented model project began with $25,000 in seed money from the National Endowment for the Arts. "Without the initial NEA money, Project Row Houses would still be just an idea. It helped validate the project, attracting other corporate and foundation support," said Lowe, founding director of Project Row Houses and current National Council on the Arts member. With the federal dollars in hand, local businesses and arts groups stepped forward with financial and personnel support. Residents from around the city came to help clean up the site, and the sheriff’s office cooperated by sending volunteers to pitch in. With this unique partnership of neighborhood residents, local volunteers, arts organizations, and area businesses, Lowe's vision began to take shape. Previously uninhabitable residences were transformed into artist studios and exhibition spaces for local, national, and international artists—a place where neighborhood children, Houston residents, and visitors from all over the country and the world could interact and experience the arts firsthand.
Before long, Project Row Houses expanded to meet other crucial neighborhood needs—developing after-school and adult education programs, summer courses, an infant care facility, a parenting class and housing for teenage mothers, and a neighborhood garden. Throughout the project, Lowe said, “artists are encouraged to partner with the general community, such as parents, churches, youth programs, and senior citizen groups.” Many of the young people who benefit from the project return later to contribute their time as mentors. In the process of transforming the spirit of its community, Project Row Houses also has become a major player in the economic development of the area, making a substantial impact on real estate and tourism. The success of Project Row Houses has not gone unnoticed. Other cities are exploring how to replicate its vision, described as a successful blend of culture and community service. So far, more than 100 artists, more than half from outside the Houston area, and countless citizens have enriched their lives through this exemplary project. As Lowe stated, “Artists are the visionaries of our community.”
In 1981, the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts—a nonprofit organization that presents and produces performance and education programs for local, national, and international audiences—established the Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts. The institute places professional performing artists in classroom residencies to work with children three to five years old through the disciplines of drama, music, and movement. It has received wide recognition for its achievements in early childhood education, including a National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award (formerly Coming Up Taller Award) in 1996. The institute has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, The Today Show, CNN World News, and the BBC.
The National Endowment for the Arts has supported Wolf Trap's Institute since 1994, when it provided seed money for a study on how preschoolers learn through the arts. Significant research had been done on the benefits of arts education for older children but not as much was known about its impact on preschoolers. Wolf Trap used the information it gathered to develop its early learning program. It brings specially trained professional actors, dancers, storytellers, and musicians into Head Start centers and pre-school classrooms to engage children, their teachers, and parents in performing arts learning activities. Wolf Trap's residency program is designed to help children improve their self-confidence, socialization skills, and ability to concentrate and remember information. Wolf Trap also offers workshops to provide teachers with strategies that allow them to weave these arts activities into their entire curriculum.
"It's made the arts part of the early learning experience for tens of thousands of children. We’ve also given teachers and parents a sense of how the arts can connect with their own lives and how they can approach the arts and learning," said Miriam Flaherty, director of education for the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. NEA support also helped Wolf Trap attract corporate funding, allowing it to expand the program across the country. The institute currently has 17 national affiliates.
"Whenever we get NEA funding it's like a slingshot. It helps us launch new programs and initiatives. Not only does it inspire our other funders to come on board, but the schools respond to the Arts Endowment's support as well," observed Flaherty. "Also, the teachers are impressed. They recognize the NEA's support means they are taking part in a quality program."
On April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City suffered a horrific tragedy. With the death toll reaching 168 and hundreds more injured victims, the bombing of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building left the city in shambles. The structural damage of the downtown buildings was inescapable, but less apparent was the emotional destruction the bombing caused. As the city worked toward restoration, the National Endowment of the Arts aided in the process by utilizing the arts.
Through the design initiative, We Will Be Back: Oklahoma City Rebuilds, the NEA sought to use the healing capabilities of the arts to assist the citizens of Oklahoma in coping with this tragedy. The initiative consisted of two components, one that involved the architectural design to shape a new city and another that sought healing through art therapy. By employing one of the most effective healing methods used throughout history, the arts, the NEA contributed to not only structural rebuilding, but emotional revival as well.
In an effort to help the city rebuild, the NEA organized a design summit in which government officials, local architects, engineers, city planners, property owners, and design specialists shared ideas about short- and long-term plans regarding rebuilding efforts. The findings greatly aided in the creative redevelopment of the city, demonstrating the role design plays in the interaction between the community and public spaces.
The other component of the We Will Be Back: Oklahoma City Rebuilds initiative was art therapy, designed specifically for survivors and family members of the bombing victims. The Arts Endowment, in partnership with the Oklahoma Arts Institute, offered free workshops on various forms of art, including weaving, music, writing, sculpting, mask making, and painting. Participants of all ages used the free workshops as a means to express their grief in a healthy manner.
Referencing the hope that art and creative expression brings, Tim Rollins, who led a painting workshop, wrote these thoughts after the session, “Art is the enemy of death. Art is the way when there is no way out. Art is hope made manifest and I am a witness.”
New Mexican artist Carlos Rael is a santero, a carver of religious icons known as santos. Santo carving is an art form that originated centuries ago in Europe and continues to evolve in the Americas. While his artistic style is traditional, his marketing methods are cutting edge.
Rael is one of a large number of artists in Taos, New Mexico, who learned to use technology through Open Studio, a program jointly created and funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Benton Foundation that launched in 1996. Expanding the reach and potential of the Internet, Open Studio trained artists to use new technology not only as a medium for displaying their work, but also as a resource for artistic research and for facilitating communication between artists and art consumers across the country. An example of a successful public-private partnership, the Arts Endowment's total investment of $1.5 million was nearly tripled with funds from other sources, further expanding the program's reach.
Open Studio funds enabled La Plaza, the New Mexican nonprofit organization serving as the Taos training site, to purchase state-of-the-art computer facilities and bring in specialists to train local artists such as Rael.
While the Taos site helped Rael and other New Mexican artists find markets for their works, more than 70 additional sites nationwide encouraged artists and organizations to become participants in the digital arena in a variety of other ways. For example, the Seattle Art Museum developed a curriculum specifically to teach artists how to look at the web as a new medium. In East St. Louis, Illinois, the Katherine Dunham Center for the Arts and Humanities put its collection online, creating a virtual museum. Space One Eleven in Birmingham, Alabama, formed a partnership allowing it to offer commercial web server space and technical assistance that would not otherwise be available to artists.
Rael said that going online transformed his career. "The flexibility computers bring to my work is unbelievable. I think we are about to see a real transition in the art world in which virtual galleries will be the wave of the future, since they will allow artists such as myself to rotate art exhibits more easily and to reach a larger audience. Also, virtual galleries cut out the large commissions that galleries charge.”
Rael’s vision of the future proved prescient: now virtual galleries are prevalent throughout the Internet, and artists can reach much larger audiences through web interaction than ever before.
In 1997, the NEA released the American Canvas report, an analysis and examination of the current state of the nonprofit arts in America. The report, the culmination of a year-long process that included regional forums across the country, was a cautionary tale about America's cultural legacy, the economic and social conditions surrounding the nonprofit arts, compartmentalization of the arts in community life, the place of the arts in education, and the opportunities and risks presented by new technologies. The report also included challenges for individuals and organizations to take future action to sustain and preserve the nonprofit arts in their own communities.
One direct outcome of the report was the pilot program ArtsREACH, designed to increase the level of direct grants to arts organizations in underserved areas. This led to the Challenge America program in 2001, which continues to reach those underserved areas with arts funding, ensuring that access to the arts is available to all Americans.
"The American Canvas report represents all that I have been trying to do these past four years," said then-Chairman Jane Alexander. "It signals the complex and pressing needs of the nonprofit arts, the hunger for culture in our communities, and the urgency for action if we are to pass on our cultural legacy, undiminished, to the children of the new millennium." The report was intended to discuss important questions, such as: What kind of culture will future generations enjoy? How can we ensure that the finest achievements of the past and present will endure in the future? And what needs to be done today to prepare our children—artists, audiences, and patrons of tomorrow—both to appreciate and to participate in the culture of their time? The complete American Canvas report is available online.
The White House Millennium Council, created by President William J. Clinton in 1998, was a multi-year initiative "marking the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the new millennium." In 1998, the White House Millennium Council partnered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to establish Save America's Treasures, an effort to protect "America's threatened cultural treasures, including historic structures, collections, works of art, maps, and journals that document and illuminate the history and culture of the United States." The four goals of this innovative public-private partnership were to foster pride in U.S. heritage; educate citizens on the preservation problems facing the nation's cultural legacy; raise concern for the urgent preservation needs of nationally significant artifacts, sites, and documents; and stimulate wide-scale involvement in preservation efforts.
The National Park Service (NPS) partnered with the four federal cultural entities—the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the President's Council on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)—to administer and distribute the Save America's Treasures grant funds. NPS managed the application and review process for historic properties while the cultural entities managed the process for collections.
Projects supported by NEA Save America's Treasures grants included the preservation of acetate negatives of photography sessions by illustrator and painter Norman Rockwell, the conservation of the archives of master choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham, and the restoration of Thomas Sully's 1817 painting of George Washington, The Passage of the Delaware.
The program was eliminated in 2011 due to budget constraints of the recession, but in its decade of existence, 1,287 Save America's Treasures grants totaling $315,152,000 were awarded to preserve nationally significant and endangered historic structures, places, collections, artifacts, and artistic works. Projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Midway Island received grants.
The NEA Regional Performing Arts Touring Program began as an effort to increase access to live performing arts for all Americans. NEA support to the six regional arts organizations (RAOs) enables them to tour high-quality, diverse art across the country with an emphasis on reaching underserved and rural communities. To ensure that communities see new works, to help the performers build their audience base, and to help the organizations that present them to expand their offerings, the majority of tours commissioned by the RAOs must comprise out-of-state artists or arts organizations. In addition, each tour must offer substantial community engagement and educational activities such as master classes, school programs, or residencies, so that community members and artists have the opportunity to interact with one another.
At the start of the program, a West Virginia local arts council responded to a regional orchestra tour with the comment: “Your… funding made it possible for even the smallest fish in the pond to take part in an extraordinary performance of classical music.” Since 1999, the program has grown to include visual, literary, and media arts touring and shortened its name to the NEA Regional Touring Program. No matter what the discipline, engagement with the artist is key, so with film screenings, for example, the director will accompany the film and talk with the audience.
Through the program, each of the RAOs sponsors a wide variety of touring artists and groups. Recent tours have including CIRCA, a dance-circus hybrid performance; Aquila Theater Company; filmmaker Patrick Creadon; and Women of the World, an all-female singing group.
The program’s impact is significant. Each performance draws community members together in unique ways. For example, the New England Foundation for the Arts recently sponsored a tour of a performance featuring puppets titled Who’s Hungry. The show focused on food poverty in the United States, and in each town partnered with community-based organizations that work to address hunger. Since its inception, the NEA Regional Touring Program has brought more than 30,000 performances and almost eight million related engagement activities to more than 2,000 communities across the country.
2002: Michael Hammond
2009: Rocco Landesman
In 1997, President William J. Clinton challenged “all Americans in the arts and humanities to join with their fellow citizens to make the year 2000 a national celebration of the American spirit in every community” and began funding of the NEA National Millennium Projects.
Nine Millennium Projects were developed to support multidisciplinary activities in all 50 states and involve local communities in the creation and preservation of artistic works starting in the year 2000. Among the projects was the Favorite Poem Project, conceived by then-U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky to create a video and audio archive of hundreds of Americans from all ages and backgrounds reading their favorite poems. Another project was Arts on Millennium Trails, which supported the creation of high-quality, community-centered public art projects located along the 50 Millennium Legacy Trails designated by the Department of Transportation. For example, on the Connecticut Impressionist Art Trail, which includes historic sites of American Impressionists such as Childe Hassam, Dawson Dawson-Watson, and J. Alden Weir, five outdoor exhibits featuring color reproductions of the artists’ paintings were installed near the sites depicted in the works, with information about the artists, the paintings, and significance of the sites.
A couple of the projects brought artists to communities to create art specifically for them. Artists and Communities: America Creates for the Millennium, coordinated by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, engaged some of the nation’s finest visual and performing artists in every state to create new work that involved local host communities in the creative process. Continental Harmony developed by the American Composers Forum with support from the NEA, commissioned composers to work with communities in 58 locations across the country to create a new musical piece that reflected the community’s distinctive heritage and culture. In David City, Nebraska, for example, a city of about 2,500 people, composer Deborah Fischer Teason interviewed community elders, visited area festivals, and even drove a combine to better understand the area’s rural traditions. Teason’s final piece, “Heartland,” ended up including parts for a brass band and button accordions to reflect the community’s Czech heritage.
In 2001, the NEA launched Challenge America, a new national program to expand the reach and impact of NEA activities. Through this program, nearly $7 million was earmarked for projects that brought arts activities to underserved populations whose access to the arts was limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability.
Challenge America was an outgrowth of ArtsREACH, a three-year pilot initiative (1998-2000) by the Arts Endowment to nurture stronger applications in 20 states that were underrepresented in terms of agency funding—the initiative led to a 350 percent increase in NEA-supported projects in the targeted states. Building on that success, Challenge America broadened the scope of the program to benefit underserved and rural communities in all 50 states. Fast-track grants, which were reviewed under a streamlined application process, ranged from $5,000-$10,000 and were awarded in two categories: Community Arts Development and Positive Alternatives for Youth.
In 2004, the Arts Endowment added a component to Challenge America that set the goal of making the NEA truly national in reach by awarding a direct grant in every U.S. Congressional district. This was initially carried out through the Challenge America Reaching Every Community program and now through the Arts Engagement in American Communities program. (The agency, for the past ten years, has been successful in reaching that goal of direct grants to all 435 districts annually.)
The Challenge America program has evolved over the years, and now offers support primarily to small and mid-sized organizations reaching underserved populations. Grants of $10,000 are given to support distinct projects that take place over limited periods of time and involve limited geographic areas. These small grants benefit organizations, many of them first-time NEA grantees, by lending credibility to their efforts and allowing them to leverage additional funding from other public and private sources. Types of projects include arts events featuring guest artists, professionally directed public art projects such as murals or sculptures, and projects addressing cultural tourism.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists and Writers (AYAW)—a network of arts, education, and community leaders with the mission to encourage creative expression and artistic achievement in junior and senior high school students nationwide—noticed that many New York City young people were making art in response to the devastation. AYAW had arranged to have an exhibit of their Scholastic Art and Writing Awards winners to be on loan to a firm in the World Trade Center towers; all the artwork was lost in the attack. Seeing all this new work being created, AYAW put together a group exhibit of post-9/11 work by young artists as "an honest, moving, and beautiful memorial to the tragic events of September 11th."
AYAW received a chairman's extraordinary action grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support the exhibition and its companion catalog. From 2,000 pieces of art and writing submitted by local schools, a panel of arts education experts and artists curated a 75-piece exhibition. ARTifacts: Kids Respond to a World in Crisis comprised a variety of artistic media, including photographs, paintings, drawings, sculpture, poems, essays, journalism, musical scores, and a play. The spectrum of artists included first-time artists as well as advanced students.
Some of the artwork was created by students displaced from school buildings because of their proximity to Ground Zero. At P.S. 234, an elementary school in Manhattan's Tribeca neighborhood, students were moved to two schools before returning to their home space in February 2002. The students documented the journey in artwork and poems; one youngster wrote, "Move the windows!/Move the floors!/Bring them through the rooms/And out the doors!//We're going for another move/And that is that."
Selections from the exhibit were displayed at the 2002 National Association of Elementary School Principals National Conference in San Antonio, Texas; the Diane Von Furstenberg Studio Gallery and the Center for Arts Education Gallery in New York City, New York; and Washington DC's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. (The entire exhibit was also available on Scholastic's website.) The Villiage Voice noted that, "the exhibited work demonstrates—in extraordinarily moving and often stunning terms—how tri-state children have coped with the tragedy and used creative expression to communicate their feelings and thoughts."
On the occasion of William Shakespeare's 439th birthday, the National Endowment for the Arts, in cooperation with the regional arts organization Arts Midwest, announced a gift of immeasurable value to the American people: a nationwide, 100-community, 50-state tour of Shakespeare by six of the nation's finest theater companies in an initiative called Shakespeare in American Communities. The companies toured the country from September 2003 through November 2004, revitalizing the longstanding American theatrical touring tradition that harkened back to the 18th century—bringing high-quality arts experiences to a broad audience. In addition to performances, the tours included artistic and technical workshops, symposia about the productions, and educational programs in local schools. The Arts Endowment also engaged in a partnership with the Department of Defense to support a tour of 14 military bases by the Alabama Shakespeare Festival with its production of Macbeth.
Initially the Arts Endowment also provided hugely popular support materials that included "teacher toolkits" for use in schools. While the toolkits were used by more than seven million students across the country, the educational materials can now be found online at shakespeareinamericancommunities.org, reaching millions more.
From the second year of the program onward, Shakespeare in American Communities focused on encouraging the next generation of U.S. audiences to attend and appreciate live theater. Theater companies perform at middle and high schools, and offer educational activities—such as workshops, in-school residencies, and post-performance discussions—to the students.
Since its inauguration, 102 theater companies from across the U.S. have taken part in Shakespeare in American Communities, presenting 33 Shakespeare plays in 8,600 performances and 29,000 educational activities at more than 7,900 schools in 3,400 communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The program is estimated to have reached more than 2.5 million individuals—2.1 million of them students—with live performances and educational activities.
In 2004, the Arts Endowment started a new initiative: the NEA Arts Journalism Institutes. Realizing that critics outside the country's major media markets are often limited in their professional development opportunities, the NEA provided $1 million for two years of institutes for critics of classical music, opera, theater, and dance. The intensive sessions provided arts critics with the training necessary to improve the country's arts coverage, helping it to grow both in quality and quantity.
After a successful first round of institutes, the NEA continued its series with new groups of fellows from across the country. The NEA held Arts Journalism Institutes in Theater and Musical Theater at the University of Southern California Annenberg, Classical Music and Opera Institutes at Columbia University in New York City, and the Dance Institute at the American Dance Festival at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
In 2009, an International Institute in the Visual Arts at American University in Washington, DC, also was created. The four institutes partnered in October 2009 to produce the first-ever National Summit on Arts Journalism held at USC Annenberg. The summit explored new ideas for arts coverage and journalism business models in front of a live and virtual audience of nearly 20,000 people.
An integral component of all the institutes was physical learning, from performing a monologue to having a lesson on a musical instrument to movement exercises. For instance, at the first institute for classical music and opera critics, participants received a voice coaching session at the Metropolitan Opera. This physical element provided the critics with a deeper understanding of the artists' creation, adding a greater depth to their analyses of the performances they critique.
Although the institutes ended in 2011, their inspiration led the NEA to team with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge, a competition in eight communities served by the foundation to inspire new, innovative models for local, high-quality arts coverage and criticism. The five finalists, from more than 200 applications, were announced in October 2011 and received funding to develop and implement their plans in Detroit, Michigan; Charlotte, North Carolina; Miami, Florida; San Jose, California; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In 2005, the National Endowment of the Arts, in partnership with the Poetry Foundation, held a pilot program for a new initiative, Poetry Out Loud, a poetry contest involving memorization and recitation, in Washington, DC, and Chicago, Illinois. The success of the pilot led to a launch of the program nationwide the next year in partnership with the state arts agencies.
The contest helps build the confidence and public speaking skills of hundreds of thousands of high school students every year through the art of poetry and is the largest contest of its kind in the United States. The first stage of Poetry Out Loud begins in high school classrooms. A school-wide competition follows, then a regional or state competition, and finally the National Finals in Washington, DC, which draws large crowds both in person at the competition as well as digitally through live webcasts.
Benefits of participating in the program include cash prizes for the winners comprising $200 to state winners and an all-expenses-paid trip for the student as well as a chaperone. The student’s school benefits financially as well with a $500 stipend to supply poetry books. In each state the first runner-up receives an award amount of $100 and a $200 stipend for their school library. Annually at the National Finals, the amount total reaches $50,000 in awards and school stipends. The program celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2015, noting that nearly three million students from 9,500 schools have participated in the program.
In addition to the monetary rewards the winners receive bragging rights, but more importantly, they gain a life changing experience that is invaluable. “Poetry Out Loud has given me the opportunity to be able to speak up as a person, to be able to get the message across, which, to me, is my experiences coming from an immigrant family and all the hardships we've faced,” said 2015 Poetry Out Loud National Champion Maeva Ordaz from Anchorage, Alaska, who won the contest from a field of more than 365,000 students nationwide. “Even though I may be reciting a poem from Keats from several hundred years ago, I am still able to connect with that. It ties me into the rest of humanity and all the writers who've come before me.”
In 2004 the National Endowment for the Arts report Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America detailed an overall decline in the amount that adults and youth were reading, with the greatest decline being amongst young children. In an attempt to help remedy this depressing fact, the NEA created the Big Read initiative in 2006. Building on the ideas from existing “City Reads” programs, the Big Read was designed to be a national reading program.
The mission of the Big Read is to broaden our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Managed by regional arts organization Arts Midwest, this initiative offers grants to support innovative community reading programs designed around a single book. The Big Read grantees include a wide variety of nonprofit organizations, each hosting events and activities specifically designed for their Big Read selection, such as lectures, panel discussions, and film screenings, aimed at a wide range of audiences.
The Big Read library offers a wide variety of books, differing in genre, authorial stature, and content, with new titles added on a regular basis New books are selected by a reading committee made up of librarians, students, teachers, writers, booksellers, and publishers, focusing on expanding the voices and stories currently represented in the Big Read library. In 2008, the NEA partnered with Mexico’s Fondo de Cultura Económica to produce an anthology of Mexican short stories especially for the Big Read—Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories—in both English and Spanish. Edited by writer Jorge F. Hernández, the anthology includes some of the finest 20th-century Mexican writers, such as Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Rosario Castellanos, and Juan Rulfo. It was the Big Read’s first foray into short fiction.
The impact of the Big Read program on communities was strong, as noted by Abby Pfeiffer about the Big Read activities in 2007 in Salinas, California. Pfeiffer was then with the National Steinbeck Center and hosting a reading of The Grapes of Wrath. “What was apparent to me,” she said, “was that people need and want a reason to communicate with each other. That's what reading is all about, that you can read and then talk with each other. I know that that was one of the goals of the Big Read, and it was exciting to see that happen…. We just put the book in people's hands and they read it, and they wanted to talk about it, and they came together as a group.”
The Big Read and NEA websites offer information on the books and activities that communities have presented over the years, as well as audio and video interviews with authors and experts on the books. As of 2015, more than 1,100 grants totaling more than $16 million have been awarded to communities across the United States.
“It really is amazing what can happen when you bring a group of passionate, intelligent people together around the subject, and you come up with solutions that you never could have dreamed of in isolation.” So stated one participant of the NEA’s Education Leaders Institute (ELI), a program to bring together executive-level, cross-sector state teams to explore and discuss key questions about advancing arts education in the nation.
Announced in March 2007, ELI used the successful structure of the NEA’s Mayors’ Institute on City Design to structure the program—bringing in key players for two-and-a-half days to discuss arts education problems specific to their localities. The Illinois Arts Council was a key partner, administering the meetings in Chicago, Illinois. Over a five-year period, teams from 29 states participated in ELI, with eight of these teams returning to attend an ELI Alumni Summit in December 2012.
The first institute took place in 2008. State teams presented on the unique challenges faced by their states. Provocative speakers and reading assignments challenged participants’ current thinking as they explored a wide range of issues, including opportunities for galvanizing public will, the role of technology, and approaches for developing regional support for arts education. Breakout sessions within and across state teams provided opportunities to explore how the speakers’ ideas and the issues raised in the reading assignments addressed state needs. The speakers, readings, and the new insights served as the foundation for each state team to affirm, revise, or completely re-imagine their question and possible solutions. Each state team then developed a roadmap for actions to take once they returned home.
The purpose of the 2012 summit was to share progress, challenges, and lessons learned, as well as deepen understanding of the critical elements necessary to advance arts education. Representatives from Alabama, California, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin attended. Four major findings emerged from the summit for advancing arts education: cross-sector collaboration, systemic change, building consensus for sustained commitment, and aligning priorities. These findings align with the framework of collective impact, which is guiding the NEA’s strategy for arts education. A full report detailing the results of the summit can be found on the NEA website.
On the evening of October 31, 2008, four stars in the opera world were feted as the inaugural recipients of the newest national lifetime achievement award in the arts—the NEA Opera Honors. The first new lifetime honor to be created by the federal government in 26 years, the NEA Opera Honors celebrated America's unique and significant contributions to the art form. From 2008-2011, the NEA honored master opera artists who have made extraordinary contributions to the field in the United States. Like all of the NEA lifetime achievement awards, recipients were nominated by the public, chosen by an NEA-convened panel of experts, and received a one-time grant award of $25,000.
The awards were presented in partnership with Opera America, the service organization for the opera field. In the first year, the Washington National Opera under the leadership of Plácido Domingo, partnered to present the awards program at the Harman Center for the Arts in Washington, DC, honoring composer/librettist Carlisle Floyd, general director Richard Gaddes, music director/conductor James Levine, and soprano Leontyne Price.
The NEA Opera Honors were created to demonstrate that opera has become a vital part of the nation's culture. Perhaps Price, who retired from the opera stage in 1985, demonstrated the distinctly American approach to opera best, giving an impromptu performance of "America the Beautiful" at the inaugural awards ceremony that brought the audience to its feet and closed the evening on a high note (literally).
Subsequent awardees have included composers John Adams, Philip Glass, and Robert Ward; general directors David DiChiera, Speight Jenkins, and Lotfi Mansouri; music directors/conductors Eve Queler and Julius Rudel; sopranos and mezzo-sopranos Martina Arroyo, Marilyn Horne, and Risë Stevens; stage director/librettist Frank Corsaro; and scenic and costume designer John Conklin.
Although the awards have been discontinued, audio and video interviews with the honorees, as well as with select colleagues of theirs, are available on the NEA website.
Establishing a career in the arts can be a difficult endeavor for anyone. But for someone with a disability, the challenges grow exponentially, from inadequate health insurance and limited access to training to overt discrimination.
To address these concerns, the NEA convened the National Summit on Careers in the Arts for People with Disabilities. Held from July 22-24, 2009, the summit was hosted in partnership with nine other organizations and federal agencies: the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, the Social Security Administration, VSA, NAMM Foundation, AARP, and Quest: Arts for Everyone.
With more than 130 attendees, the conference gathered over three days to review progress made since the last such convening in 1998, to assess current needs and barriers faced by professionals with disabilities in the arts, and to strategize ways to reduce or eliminate these barriers. The proceedings were also broadcast as a webinar.
The conference began with an overview of findings from the NEA research report, National Study on Careers in the Arts. Led by Carrie Sandahl, the report found that individuals with disabilities face challenges at every step of their careers, including discriminatory admissions practices at training programs, lack of physical accommodation, and low expectations for professionals with disabilities.
After reviewing projects that emerged from the 1998 convening, and advances they have made, the summit broke into working groups divided by discipline: creative writing, design, media, performing arts, and visual arts. Each group was tasked with generating solutions that would give people with disabilities increased access to higher education, arts training, careers, and arts opportunities.
As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the NEA recently published findings about arts participation patterns among disabled Americans, which was based on data from the 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). At the same time, the agency dedicated an issue of its quarterly magazine to accessibility and the arts, signaling its continued exploration of how to expand opportunities for artists and arts audiences with disabilities.
2014: Jane Chu
There are currently more than two million men and women in the U.S. military. Every day, these active-duty service members and their families make sacrifices on the nation’s behalf, enduring physical danger, time apart from loved ones, stress, loneliness, and anxiety.
To support our military families, the NEA launched Blue Star Museums in 2010, a collaboration among the NEA, Blue Star Families—an organization of military spouses that addresses the challenges of military life, and the Department of Defense. Every summer, Blue Star Museums offers free admission to active-duty military personnel and their families at more than 2,000 museums in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and American Samoa.
At its heart, this program is designed to build connections. Visiting a museum can connect families with their new communities after a permanent change of station; it can forge bonds as families spend time together (particularly important for those becoming reacquainted after deployment); and it can connect service members with the cultural patrimony they are fighting to protect. Of course, sometimes it’s just as important to disconnect: for those missing a loved one overseas, the distraction of a few hours at a museum can be priceless. As Ellyn Dunford, spouse of General Joseph Dunford of the Marine Corps, noted at the 2015 Blue Star Museums launch, “The gift that you give us through Blue Star Museums, and the additional exposure and education and experience that our military families gain, is valuable for the whole country and the world because we share that as we go along.”
Since its inception, the program has encouraged participation from fields far beyond art, including children’s museums, gardens, historical homes, science and history museums, and even zoos. By offering something for every age and interest, Blue Star Museums is a program that caters to every member of our military families. More than 700,000 service members and their families participate in the program annually.
Communities have always had dedicated spaces for the arts. Museums hold collections of visual art, theaters stage works of drama, and concert halls were designed for musical performance. But what if the community itself was a dedicated space for art? What could that mean for local life?
The NEA began to explore this idea when it introduced the Our Town grant program in 2010. As the agency’s main creative placemaking initiative, Our Town was founded on the belief that the arts have a unique ability to create a distinct sense of place, jumpstart local economies, and increase creative activity, making them a key ingredient for vibrant, resilient communities.
Through Our Town, the NEA invests in projects that place the arts at the center of community life, strengthening the places we call home. Projects have touched every artistic discipline, and have borne outcomes as diverse as murals and public sculptures to festivals, the establishment of cultural districts, the redesign of public spaces, and starting in 2015, building knowledge about creative placemaking so that projects can be replicated throughout the country. As of 2015, Our Town has funded 331 grants totaling $25.96 million in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The grant program requires partnerships between nonprofit arts organizations and local government entities, which has created many interesting public-private collaborations. For example, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the city’s arts council worked closely with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to create a mural on a barren wall in a public park that had become a site for graffiti. Since it was on public property, the city’s participation was critical. Muralist David Loewenstein was enlisted to collaborate with the community and local students to develop and implement the mural, which would represent the Whittier neighborhood’s identity and culture.
In 2014, the NEA also unrolled a new Exploring Our Town online resource. This site showcases noteworthy Our Town projects, and allows grantees to share their “lessons learned” for the benefit of other creative placemaking practitioners. As a whole, the site serves as testimony for how and why the arts are an effective approach to community development.
It’s a common trope that the value of the arts can be felt rather than measured. While their emotional impact is without a doubt what makes the arts so special, it is also clear that arriving at this personal experience—by reading a book, attending a performance, or watching a movie—generates economic activity.
In 2012, the NEA announced a landmark partnership with the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Through this partnership, the BEA developed an Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account (ACPSA), which became the first federal effort to measure the arts and cultural sector’s contributions to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The ACPSA looks at every aspect of the arts sector, including nonprofit and commercial enterprises, and both direct and indirect contributions. In addition to more obvious transactions such as the sale of tickets or artwork, the satellite account reports on detailed data such as the number of people employed by museums, revenues generated by the advertising industry, and worker compensation in the music industry.
Taken together, these many strands have proven to pack a sizeable punch. The ACPSA found that in 2012 (currently the most recent year for which data is available), arts and cultural production contributed more than $698 billion to the U.S. economy, or 4.32 percent of the nation’s GDP. Nearly five million workers were employed in the production of arts and cultural goods, receiving $334.9 billion in compensation. Arts and cultural spending also has a ripple effect on the overall economy, boosting both commodities and jobs. For example, for every 100 jobs created from new demand for the arts, 62 additional jobs are also created.
As we obtain new data from the ACPSA, we will gain a better, clearer understanding of how the arts impact the American economy, as well as new evidence that the arts aren’t just good for the spirit, but for the wallet too.
Not every battle wound is evident by scars or bandages, prosthetic limbs or wheelchairs. Of the 2.7 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, it’s estimated that up to 20 percent have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 19 percent have traumatic brain injury (TBI). Both of these conditions can be utterly debilitating, and are associated with depression, anxiety, and suicide. And yet, nearly half of individuals with PTSD don’t seek treatment, and instead suffer silently and alone.
In 2011, the NEA sought to alleviate this crisis by bringing writing therapy to the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE), located on the campus of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The NICoE is a cutting-edge institute dedicated to researching and healing the psychological wounds of combat, and has pioneered the use of holistic, unconventional treatments.
The idea for the writing component grew out of the NEA’s Operation Homecoming initiative, which conducted writing workshops for troops, veterans, and their families from 2004 to 2009. The Healing Arts Partnership at Walter Reed took this program a step further by integrating it with visual arts therapy, which was already in place at the NICoE when the writing component was introduced. Together, these two programs gave patients multiple channels to sift through their anxieties, fears, guilt, and painful memories, and built bridges back to friends and family as patients shared their work.
The program was so successful that an additional music therapy component was added, and a satellite program was launched in 2013 at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. At Fort Belvoir, the NEA has instituted both writing and visual art therapy as outpatient treatment, so that patients can continue on a long-term basis without having to leave their units or families for extended periods of time.
“Sometimes patients wind up feeling so overwhelmed that it’s hard to sort through what exactly is overwhelming them and what really is underlying all those emotions,” said Jackie Biggs, an art therapist at Fort Belvoir. “Through creating the artwork and then talking about it later, they’re usually able to identify and pinpoint really what’s underlying what’s going on, and what they can target in therapy moving forward.”
Since it began awarding translation fellowships in 1981, the NEA has spent more than $8 million on the publication, presentation, and creation of translated literary works. Through 2014, 364 translators received NEA Literature Fellowship in Translation grants to translate literature from 66 languages originating in 86 countries. To celebrate the agency’s large investment in translation, the NEA created a publication, The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation, in which 19 translators and advocates of translation illuminate the challenges of bringing new voices to American audiences.
As Amy Stolls, NEA director of Literature, stated in the introduction, “Our goal for this book was simple: to illuminate for the general reader the art and importance of translation through a variety of points of view. Each essay tells a different story; each story adds to our understanding of this little-known art form.”
The essays address a variety of subjects, from why the writers became literary translators to the mechanics of creating a good translation to the value of translation. One of the common themes through the essays was the ability of translation to help us understand other cultures and ways of thought. As translator Johanna Warren noted in her essay, “To come to deeply empathize with a person you have never met, who was born into circumstances so different from your own, is the sweetest possible fruit of communication. That this can be the result of reading a book is a testament to the necessity of translation and the power of literature in general.”
The contributors range from relatively new translators like Warren and Angela Rodel to well-known translators Howard Goldblatt, Pierre Joris, and Natasha Wimmer, as well as publishers like Dalkey Archive’s John O’Brien and Open Letter Books’ Chad Post, and advocates like Olivia E. Sears of the Center for the Art of Translation and Susan Harris of Words without Borders. In addition to the essays, each contributor offered their three favorite translations—not necessarily the canonical translations, but ones that the essayists thought highly of and wanted to share.
In the National Endowment for the Arts' 50th anniversary year, it isn’t just a time for celebration; it’s also an opportunity for reflection. The cultural landscape is very different from when the NEA first emerged in 1965. Artists are using diverse platforms to create new artistic forms, and audiences are using multiple and evolving platforms to access them. At the same time, creativity is increasingly valued in the marketplace, and by fields as varied as technology, science, healthcare, and agriculture.
In the midst of these shifting conditions, the NEA has launched the leadership initiative Creativity Connects* to examine and uncover the ways the agency can support a sustainable future for the arts and creativity in our nation by showing how the arts are central to the country’s creative ecosystem, investigating how support systems for the arts have changed, and exploring how the arts connect with other industries.
Creativity Connects has two components:
- an Infrastructure Report will provide a contemporary overview of changing artistic practices and the key pieces that arts providers need, in order to produce their best work; and
- an interactive digital Systems Map that shows the elements of a creative ecosystem, as well as examples of who’s out there doing good work in the arts and other sectors within each element.
The initiative will provide the framework for the NEA to investigate the conditions and trends affecting, shaping and promoting creativity in the US and examine the ways in which the arts sector, government, for-profit sector, and philanthropic community can collaborate to support the arts, grow our nation’s creative economy, and enhance the contributions of creative workers to our society.
The specific objectives of Creativity Connects are:
- Take a fresh look at the support systems for arts providers and the creative ecosystem in which they operate;
- Provide a contemporary report on changing artistic practices and the emerging landscape of support for arts providers;
- Identify major trends in artistic practice and the current ecosystem of arts support; and
- Share findings about important models of practice, locating opportunities for impact, and understanding where the current creative ecosystem of support needs to change in order to remain relevant.
We believe the future of the United States is closely tied to the health of its creative sectors. By supporting our artists, designers, creative thinkers, inventors, and entrepreneurs, we will ultimately benefit our society as a whole.