The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has flourished over the past 50 years, serving as an independent agency of the United States federal government, offering much needed support and funding for projects exhibiting artistic excellence. It was created by President Lyndon B. Johnson under an act of Congress in 1965. The NEA is the largest grant maker to arts organizations in the country. However, it has been under repeated attack and is under threat with a Republican Congress and president who makes open statements about eliminating it or severely cutting its funding.
Here are some problems the NEA has confronted:
· In 1981, upon entering office, President Ronald Reagan pushed for a three-year plan to phase out the NEA. This from someone who came from the arts, who was a famous actor. However, his plan was foiled when his special task force on the arts and humanities talked him out of it.
· In 1989 there was a huge controversy over the NEA-funded exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe. His work included a photo called Piss Christ, where a crucifix is depicted as being submerged in the artist’s own urine. Though the controversy yielded congressional debate and protests, efforts to defund the NEA failed again.
· In 1990, NEA grants for artists were vetoed by President Bush appointee, John Frohnmayer. A court overruled this three years later and they were awarded their grant money.
· In the mid-1990s House Speaker Newt Gingrich called for the NEA to be dumped, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. There were massive budget cutbacks and an end to grants to individual artists, but Newt ultimately failed to eliminate the NEA.
Below are excerpts from the NEA website, www.arts.gov, showcasing their good work:
“An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book. Showcasing a diverse range of contemporary titles that reflect many different voices and perspectives, the NEA Big Read aims to inspire conversation and discovery. The main feature of the initiative is a grants program, managed by Arts Midwest, which annually supports approximately 75 dynamic community reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read selection.
“Since 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,300 NEA Big Read community programs providing more than $18 million in grants to organizations in every district in the country. In turn, these organizations have leveraged more than $42 million in local funding to support their NEA Big Read programs. More than 4.8 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, approximately 79,000 volunteers have participated at the local level, and 37,000 community organizations have partnered to make NEA Big Read activities possible.
“To learn more about the books or to apply for an NEA Big Read grant, go to www.neabigread.org.
“Literature inspires, enriches, educates, and entertains. It reminds us that there is beauty and joy in language, that others have insights worth paying attention to, that in our struggles we are not alone. By helping writers and translators create new work and connect with audiences through publishers and other literary organizations and programs, the National endowment for the Arts celebrates literature as an essential reflection of our nation’s rich diversity of voices.
“The National Endowment for the Arts supports writers of all levels in developing their creative abilities.
“The NEA supports craft workshops, retreats, and educational tools for both emerging and established writers allowing them to receive the mentorship and community support they need to create their best work.
“The NEA is instrumental in bringing a diversity of literary programming to such venues as senior centers, prisons, hospitals, libraries, grocery stores, and parks across the country, providing opportunities for a variety of audiences to engage with, and learn from contemporary writers.
“By engaging high school students across the country in the public recitation of poetry, the National Endowment for the Arts’ Poetry Out Loud program builds students’ self-confidence and encourages a lasting love of poetry.
“Since 2005, the Poetry Out Loud program has grown to reach more than 3 million students and 45,000 teachers from 10,000 schools nationwide.
“Through its creative writing fellowships program, the National Endowment for the Arts gives writers the time and space to create, revise, conduct research and connect with readers.
“Since 1967, the creative writing fellowships program has awarded more than $45 million and more than 3,400 fellowships to a diverse group of nearly 3,000 writers, many of them emerging writers at the start of their careers.
“Since 1990, 95 of the 164 American recipients of the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award and Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and Fiction were recipients of NEA Fellowships earlier in their careers.
“The NEA’s support of local book festivals, literary centers, reading series, and online endeavors allows readers to engage with the written word more deeply and directly, and for writers and readers to meaningfully connect.
“The NEA’s investment in nonprofit journals and presses fosters an environment in which a diversity of literary work – in many cases, work overlooked by mainstream publishers – is realized on the page and screen, and widely available to American readers.
“The NEA strengthens the network of literary organizations by facilitating conversations about challenges and opportunities within the field of literature, as well as across all arts disciplines”
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