NEA At A Glance


The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. 


The NEA is the largest annual national funder of the arts in the United States. In FY 2010, the NEA invested nearly $139 million through more than 2,700 grants across the country; in turn, these organizations had direct expenditures in their communities of $2.1 billion. NEA grants have a powerful multiplying effect, with each grant dollar typically matched by nine dollars of additional investments in this country's nonprofit arts organizations.

Since its inception, the NEA has awarded more than 135,000 grants, including early support for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial design competition, the Sundance Film Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, and PBS's Great Performancesseries. For more than four decades, the Arts Endowment has encouraged creativity through support of performances, exhibitions, festivals, artist residencies, and other arts projects throughout the country in a number of different disciplines/fields, including Artist Communities, Arts Education, Dance, Design, Folk and Traditional Arts, Literature, Local Arts Agencies, Media Arts, Museums, Music, Musical Theater, Opera, Presenting, Theater, and Visual Arts.

The NEA also extends its impact through partnerships with federal agencies, state organizations, and other public and private organizations in the following areas:

State and Regional: Forty percent of the NEA's funds go to the 56 state and jurisdictional arts agencies and the six regional arts organizations in support of arts projects in thousands of communities across the country, greatly extending the NEA's reach and impact, and translating national leadership into local benefit.

Federal Partnerships: The NEA works with more than 20 other federal agencies, as well as with state and local governments, on projects that provide opportunities for thousands of Americans to experience quality arts programming throughout the country. These partnerships include initiatives with such agencies as the Department of Education, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Defense, Department of State, and Department of Health and Human Services. For example, the NEA administers the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program on behalf of the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Created by Congress in 1975, the Indemnity Program helps minimize the costs of insuring both domestic and international exhibitions, allowing museum attendees across the country to see important works of art from around the country and around the world.

Design: The Endowment's leadership initiatives in design are run in partnership with private not-for-profit organizations.

  • The Governors' Institute on Community Design, run in partnership with the Smart Growth Leadership Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency, helps governors apply best practices in managing the growth of large metropolitan areas.
  • The Mayors' Institute on City Design, run in partnership with the American Architectural Foundation and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, helps mayors of large and mid-size cities address their most pressing urban design challenges.
  • Your Town: The Citizens' Institute on Rural Design, is run in partnership with the faculty of Landscape Architecture at SUNY Syracuse and the Carl Small Town Center at Mississippi State University.  This program gives local leaders in rural areas the tools they need to wisely direct the physical growth of their communities.

Arts Education: In addition to direct grants through Grants for Arts Projects, the NEA also supports arts education through federal, state, and public-private partnerships. Partnerships include:

  • The Arts Education Partnership (AEP), a collaboration between the NEA, the U.S. Department of Education, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), convenes forums to discuss topics in arts education, publishes research materials supporting the role of arts education in schools, and provides a clearinghouse for arts education resource materials.
  • The National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Awards, formerly known as Coming Up Taller, is a joint initiative of the NEA, the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  This annual award recognizes outstanding after-school and out-of-school programs that are transforming the lives of young people
  • Administered by the Illinois Arts Council, the NEA Education Leaders Institute convenes key decision makers to enhance the quality and quantity of arts education at the state level.  Each institute gathers teams of school leaders, legislators, policymakers, educators, professional artists, consultants, and scholars from up to five states to discuss a shared arts education challenge and engage in strategic planning to advance arts education in their respective states. 

International: Through cooperative initiatives with other funders, the NEA brings the benefit of international exchange to arts organizations, artists, and audiences nationwide. International partnerships provide opportunities for U.S. artists and arts organizations to travel abroad as well as for artists from other countries to participate in residencies in the U.S. The NEA's International Partnerships include USArtists International, U.S./ Japan Creative Artists' Program, and ArtsLink Residencies.

Through additional partnerships the NEA also carries out special initiatives, including:

  • Blue Star Museums, a partnership among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and more than 1,000 museums that offers free admission to museums for all active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day, 2011.
  • The Big Read, presented in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest, gives communities the opportunity to come together to read, discuss, and celebrate one of 31 selections from U.S. and world literature.
  • Poetry Out Loud: National Poetry Recitation Contest isa partnership initiative with the Poetry Foundation and the state arts agencies thatencourages the study of great poetry by offering educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high schools across the country. The National Finals take place in Washington, DC every April.

In addition to grants to organizations, the NEA supports individuals through literature fellowships in the areas of creative writing (prose and poetry fellowships are awarded in alternating years) and translation. The goal of the fellowships program is to encourage the production of new work and allow writers the time and means to write. The NEA has supported authors who have gone on to write many of the most acclaimed novels of contemporary American literature: Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, William Kennedy's Ironweed, and Bobbie Ann Mason's In Country. Through fellowships to published translators, the Arts Endowment supports projects for the translation of specific works of prose, poetry, or drama from other languages into English.

The NEA also supports artists through annual lifetime honor awards in three categories: NEA National Heritage Fellowships to master folk and traditional artists; NEA Jazz Master Fellowships to jazz musicians and advocates; and NEA Opera Honors to those who have made extraordinary contributions to opera in the United States. Each recipient receives an award of $25,000 and is celebrated at an awards ceremony and concert.

The NEA also manages the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States Government. Established by Congress in 1984, and awarded annually by the President, National Medal of Arts recipients are selected based on their contributions to the creation, growth, and support of the arts in the United States. Each year, the Arts Endowment seeks nominations from individuals and organizations across the country.


The NEA Office of Research & Analysis has produced landmark research reports that have provoked national debate on issues surrounding the arts and arts education. Among these is the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, the nation's largest and most representative periodic study of adult participation in arts events and activities, conducted by the NEA in partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau. Five times since 1982, the survey has asked U.S. adults 18 and older about their patterns of arts participation over a 12-month period. The 2008 survey reveals dwindling audiences for many art forms, but it also captures new data on Internet use and other forms of arts participation. Using the data in this survey the NEA has also published companion reports/notes, including Arts Education in America: What the declines mean for arts participation; Beyond Attendance: A multi-modal understanding of arts participation; Age and Arts Participation: A case against demographic destiny; and Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation (2010).

The NEA has also tracked reading rates among children and adults in Reading at Risk (2004), To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence(2007), and Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy (2009). Other research, including Artists in the Workforce: 1990-2005 (2008) and All America's a Stage (2008), looks at employment and economic trends in the arts industry. Additional studies on creativity and aging, civic engagement, and arts education highlight the social impact of the arts in America.

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