In 1980, the NEA Dance and Design programs jointly awarded a $105,000 grant for the initial demolition and reconstruction costs to turn the Elgin Theater into the Joyce Theater, one of the foremost dance venues in the world.
In fiscal year 1981, 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.
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).
In 1983, the NEA partnered with the American Film Institute to create a program to focus specifically on film preservation, the AFI/NEA Film Preservation Program.
Since its inception in 1984, the National Medal of Arts program has recognized many notable Americans for their work producing and creating art.
With Arts Endowment support, folklorist Hal Cannon and his colleagues put together the first Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada in 1985.
On October 23, 1986, the NEA's first Mayors' Institute on City Design was hosted at the University of Virginia, bringing mayors together with prominent designers to discuss design challenges facing their cities.
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."
Atlanta held its first National Black Arts Festival in 1988 with funding in the amount of $100,000 from the NEA’s Expansion Arts program.
In 1989 the then-called La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art (now known as the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego) received an NEA $250,000 grant for a three-year, cultural-exchange project between the United States and Mexico, with a focus on the San Diego/Tijuana region.