NEA Arts Magazine

New Ways of Seeing

Connecting Communities to the Visual Arts


 Photo of Robert Frankel

Museums & Visual Arts Director Robert Frankel. Photo by Kevin Alle.

From its earliest days the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) sought to assist museums and visual arts organizations reach new audiences. The NEA helped them discover the most effective ways to connect with their communities, to utilize evolving technology to provide access to visual material, and to determine best practices in the exhibition and care of art objects. Through its support of exhibitions, infrastructure, and programming, the NEA continues to partner with organizations both large and small, across the nation, to find the means to best serve the American public.

When the NEA was founded, museums and visual arts grants were administered within one program. It became clear, however, that the needs of museums and those of the generally smaller visual arts organizations required different approaches, and in 1972 an independent museums program was established. These have evolved so that within each area grants support the creation, exhibition, publication, and conservation of visual material. Though the agency no longer awards grants to individuals, increasingly we receive applications for residencies in both urban and rural communities. This provides artists with the opportunity to explore new approaches to their art and produce work while, often, giving those in the community where the residency occurs their first opportunity to interact with a working artist.

The articles which follow highlight not only core grant activity, but also other ways that the NEA assists the visual arts field. Since it was established, the federal Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program has grown substantially and has saved arts institutions more than $200 million dollars in insurance premiums.With the addition of coverage for domestic institutions, its reach will extend even further. American Masterpieces Visual Arts Touring allows for the creation of exhibitions, which give many in small and mid-size communities the chance to see material that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

The NEA's support of the visual arts provides communities throughout the country with the opportunity to discover new artists and new ways of seeing art, celebrating the crucial role art plays in people's lives.