Timeline of NEA Highlights

Find a highlighted grant or project for each year of NEA’s history from the thousands of grants we award annually. Complete lists of grants can be found in the Annual Reports from 1965 - 1997 and on our Recent Grant Search page from 1998 to the present.


The front of the Joyce Theater with a people waiting in line to get in.
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.


Reflection of a woman in a dress standing in front of a black reflective monument with names engraved on it, a flower at her feet.
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.


A five-piece bluegrass band, all white men wearing suits, on a stage playing.
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).


black and white still of man in a hat with a small black moustache with a little boy below him, both looking around a corner, with a police officer behind them.
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.


National Medal of the Arts w/ purple ribbon
Since its inception in 1984, the National Medal of Arts program has recognized many notable Americans for their work producing and creating art.


Man with moustache wearing a cowboy hat and white shirt holding a mic on stage.
With Arts Endowment support, folklorist Hal Cannon and his colleagues put together the first Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada in 1985.


A performing arts venue full of audience members in front of an abandoned steel factory.
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.


Dancers dressed in elaborate red and white costumes, wearing long black wigs and their faces painted, on stage.
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."


Black man wearing straw hat and sunglasses and blue shirt at piano speaking into a mic on an outdoors stage.
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.


Cover of the catalogue for the La Frontera/The Border: Art about the Mexico/United States Border Experience exhibition.
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.