What Is the National Endowment for the Arts?: The NEA Provides Grant Funding for Arts Organizations

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The National Endowment for the Arts is a government funded agency that is “dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education.” The NEA was founded in 1965 and put in an appropriation request for 2010 totaling over $161 million.

Grants for the Arts Organizations

Image by glasstire.com

One of the main purposes of the NEA is to award grants to worthy artists every year. Grants are available in the following categories: Artist Communities, Arts Education, Dance, Design, Folk and Traditional Arts, Literature, Local Arts Agencies, Media Arts, Museums, Music, Musical Theater, Opera, Presenting, State and Regional, Theater and Visual Arts. It is important to keep in mind that most of these grants are awarded to groups not to individuals. The NEA came under some controversy in 1989 over individual artists, such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Sprinkles and Andres Serrano, who were receiving grants and producing controversial artwork.

NEA Initiatives

NEA Initiatives. Image by arts.gov

The NEA also undertakes some projects of its own such as:

  • The Big Read is in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest and is attempting to encourage people to read.
  • Operation Homecoming was created to allow for U.S. Armed Forces and their families to have an opportunity to write about their experiences. The best of the writings have been compiled into a book entitled Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families. (Random House)
  • Poetry Out Loud encourages high school students to memorize and then to perform great works of poetry. As a cross-curriculum program, Poetry Out Loud teaches public speaking, theater and an appreciation for literature.
  • Jazz Masters promotes this unique, American art form by giving Jazz Masters awards and by offering jazz performances in selected communities and schools. Some of the Jazz Masters who have received awards include: Sun Ra, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Art Blakey, Sarah Vaughn, Anita O’Day, Marian McPartland, and Dave Brubeck.
  • American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Genius is a touring exhibition that promotes the arts. The last grant round provided funds for the themes of Choral Music, Musical Theater, Literature, Visual Art and Dance.
  • NEA Arts Journalism Institutes is a program that trains journalists to better write about art. These two week training programs are offered to journalists who write about Classical Music, Opera, Theater, Musical Theater, Dance and Visual Arts.
  • Shakespeare in American Communities is a touring group that provides Shakespeare performances to over 100 small and mid-sized communities as well as military bases.
  • Great American Voices Military Base Tour provided 24 opera companies that performed at 39 military bases around the country.


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