Celebrating America's Artistic Legacy

Three Centuries of Artistic Genius

For three centuries, Americans have contributed myriad artistic masterworks to the world culture, including uniquely American art forms such as jazz and musical theater. While some Americans may recognize Nickolas Muray's iconic photographs of Judy Garland and Babe Ruth, or may even know that the name Martha Graham has something to do with dance, for the most part American master artists go unheralded at home. To make the artistic accomplishments of great American artists better known to all Americans, the National Endowment for the Arts created American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius.

American Masterpieces began in 2005 with support for the touring of exhibitions of significant works of American art, including paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe, modernist silver, and contemporary Native American works. In 2006 and 2007, the program expanded to include choral music, dance, literature, and musical theater.

Choral grants support regional choral festivals showcasing the rich and varied repertory of American choral music by such significant composers as William Billings and Libby Larsen.

In dance, American Masterpieces helps professional dance companies to revive, perform, and tour works by such important American choreographers as José Limón. Grants also are awarded to college and university dance departments to allow student performers access to their often-unavailable dance heritage.

In musical theater, the Arts Endowment provides support for professional and student productions of plays by Leonard Bernstein and Kurt Weill, among others, in venues from Tennessee to Washington to North Carolina.

Developed in response to the NEA study Reading at Risk, which documented the alarming decline in literary reading in the United States among all age groups, the Big Read is the literature component of American Masterpieces. (The Big Read will be featured in the next issue of NEA Arts.)

In 2008, the music component of American Masterpieces will shift to chamber music created for small ensembles. Projects that present a number of different art forms in a single performance also will receive grant support through the program.

In just two years, hundreds of communities and thousands of citizens have participated in one or more of the American Masterpieces exhibitions, performances, or events. In coming years, these projects will introduce thousands more to the wondrous treasure house of America's artistic legacy.

Douglas Sonntag Director,
National Initiatives