The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $5 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector.
The NEA is the largest annual national funder of the arts in the United States. Since its inception, the NEA has awarded more than 140,000 grants, including early support for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial design competition, the Sundance Film Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, PBS's Great Performances series, and the American Film Institute. For more than four decades, the Arts Endowment has encouraged creativity through support of performances, exhibitions, festivals, artist residencies, and other arts projects throughout the country.
The NEA also extends its impact through partnerships with federal agencies, state arts organizations, and other public and private organizations under the categories of Arts Education, State and Regional, Federal Partnerships, International, and Design. Forty percent of the NEA's funds go to the 56 state and jurisdictional arts agencies and the six regional arts organizations in support of arts projects in thousands of communities across the country, greatly extending the NEA's reach and impact, and translating national leadership into local benefit. Through additional partnerships the NEA also carries out special initiatives, including The Big Read, Blue Star Museums, and Poetry Out Loud: National Poetry Recitation Contest.
In addition to grants to organizations, the NEA supports individuals through literature fellowships in the areas of creative writing (prose and poetry fellowships are awarded in alternating years) and for the translation of specific works of prose, poetry, or drama from other languages into English. The NEA presents annual lifetime honors to artists in two categories: NEA National Heritage Fellowships to master folk and traditional artists and the NEA Jazz Master Fellowships to jazz musicians and advocates. Each recipient receives an award of $25,000 and is celebrated at a public event. The NEA also manages the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States Government and awarded annually by the President.
For more than 30 years, the NEA Office of Research & Analysis has produced periodic research reports, brochures, and notes on significant topics affecting artists and arts organizations, often in partnership with other federal agencies such as the U.S. Census Bureau. In November 2009, the NEA released the latest Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, the nation's largest and most representative periodic study of adult participation in arts events and activities. Five times since 1982, the survey has asked U.S. adults 18 and older about their patterns of arts participation over a 12-month period. Using the data in this survey the NEA has also published companion reports that confirm the importance of arts education, argue for a more expansive system to measure arts participation, and challenge the notion of the "graying" of arts audiences.