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A large group of men and women of all ages sitting around a table listening to an older man in white shirt speak.

Choreographer Doug Varone speaks to critics at the 2008 NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance. Photo by Sara D. Davis, American Dance Festival

In 2004, the Arts Endowment started a new initiative: the NEA Arts Journalism Institutes. Realizing that critics outside the country's major media markets are often limited in their professional development opportunities, the NEA provided $1 million for two years of institutes for critics of classical music, opera, theater, and dance. The intensive sessions provide arts critics with the training necessary to improve the country's arts coverage, helping it to grow both in quality and quantity.

After a successful first round of institutes, the NEA continued its series with new groups of fellows from across the country. The NEA held Arts Journalism Institutes in Theater and Musical Theater at the University of Southern California Annenberg, Classical Music and Opera Institutes at Columbia University in New York City, and the Dance Institute at the American Dance Festival at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

In 2009, an International Institute in the Visual Arts at American University in Washington, DC, also was created. The four institutes partnered in October 2009 to produce the first-ever National Summit on Arts Journalism held at USC Annenberg. The summit explored new ideas for arts coverage and journalism business models in front of a live and virtual audience of nearly 20,000 people.

An integral component of all the institutes was physical learning, from performing a monologue to having a lesson on a musical instrument to movement exercises. For instance, at the first institute for classical music and opera critics, participants received a voice coaching session at the Metropolitan Opera. This physical element provides the critics with a deeper understanding of the artists' creation, adding a greater depth to their analyses of the performances they critique.

Although the institutes ended in 2011, their inspiration led the NEA to team with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge, a competition in eight communities served by the foundation to inspire new, innovative models for local, high-quality arts coverage and criticism. The five finalists, from more than 200 applications, were announced in October 2011 and received funding to develop and implement their plans in Detroit, Michigan; Charlotte, North Carolina; Miami, Florida; San Jose, California; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.