National Council on the Arts

Watch the on-demand recordings of the NEA in Ohio Town Hall panel June 27 and the National Council on the Arts Public Meeting June 28

History and Purpose

The National Council on the Arts advises the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who also chairs the Council, on agency policies and programs. It reviews and makes recommendations to the Chairman on applications for grants, funding guidelines, and leadership initiatives.

The Council was established through the National Arts and Cultural Development Act of 1964, a full year before the federal agency was created by Congressional legislation. Its first members were appointed by President Lyndon Johnson and included noted artists such as Ralph Ellison, Paul Engle, Elizabeth Ashley, Gregory Peck, Oliver Smith, William Pereira, Minoru Yamasaki, George Stevens Sr., Leonard Bernstein, Agnes de Mille, David Smith, and Isaac Stern.

The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965 established the National Endowment for the Arts and provided for 26 citizens to serve as advisors to the agency as members of the National Council on the Arts. Members are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate for six-year, staggered terms. Congress has since enacted legislation that reduced the membership of the Council. Currently, there are 18 members of the National Council on the Arts and an additional six members of Congress to serve in an ex officio, non-voting capacity for two-year terms.

The Presidential appointments, by law, are selected for their widely recognized knowledge of the arts or their expertise or profound interest in the arts. They have records of distinguished service or achieved eminence in the arts and are appointed so as to represent equitably all geographical areas of the country. Congressional members are appointed in the following manner: two by the Speaker of the House, one by the Minority Leader of the House, two by the Majority Leader of the Senate, and one by the Minority Leader of the Senate.

Roles and Functions

The major areas in which the Council advises the agency and its Chairman are:

  • Applications for Federal grant funds recommended by advisory panels;
  • Guidelines outlining funding categories, objectives, and eligibility;
  • Leadership initiatives and partnership agreements with other agencies;
  • Agency budget levels, allocations, and funding priorities;
  • Policy directions involving Congressional legislation and other issues of importance to the arts nationally.

The Council also recommends individuals and organizations to receive the National Medal of Arts, a Presidential award in recognition of outstanding contributions to the arts in America.

Currently, Council meetings are convened for one-day sessions three times per year, usually on Fridays in March, July, and October. Meetings are held at the Constitution Center in Washington, DC, and are open to the public. The day before the Council meeting, members are briefed by staff about the pending grant applications that they will consider, as well as the deliberations of the advisory panels that reviewed them. These informational sessions are closed to the public. Agendas are posted on the Web site.

Previous public session webcasts

Current Council Members

Maria Rosario Jackson, PhD
National Endowment for the Arts

Ismael Ahmed
State and University Official/Nonprofit Executive Director
Farmington Hills, MI

Kinan Azmeh
Clarinet Player/Composer
New York, NY

Bidtah Becker
Fort Defiance, AZ

Bruce Carter, PhD 
Arts Researcher
Miami Beach, FL

Gretchen Gonzales Davidson
State Arts Agency Chair
Birmingham, MI

Aaron Dworkin
Social Entrepreneur/Music Educator
Ypsilanti, MI

Kamilah Forbes
New York, NY

Deepa Gupta 
Philanthropic Professional
Chicago, IL

Paul Hodes 
Attorney/Musician/Former Congressman
Kittery Point, ME

Emil J. Kang 
Arts Philanthropy Professional
New York, NY

Michael Lombardo
Film & Television Studio President
Los Angeles, CA

María López De León 
Arts Administrator
San Antonio, TX

Huascar Medina
Lawrence, KS

Christopher Morgan
Choreographer/Educator/Arts Administrator
Takoma Park, MD

Fiona Whelan Prine 
Record Label/Foundation President 
Nashville, TN

Ranee Ramaswamy  
Dancer, Choreographer, Teacher
Minneapolis, MN

Jake Shimabukuro
Ukulele Player
Honolulu, HI

Constance Williams
Haverford, PA

* Council members continue to serve even after their terms expire until their replacements are confirmed by the Senate.

Ex-Officio Members, United States Congress


Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)


Chellie Pingree (D-Maine)

Glenn Thompson (R-Pennsylvania)

Appointment by Majority and Minority leadership of the remaining Members of Congress to the Council is pending.