NEA Big Read

About the National Endowment for the Arts

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. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts and the agency is celebrating this milestone with events and activities through September 2016. Go to the 50th anniversary section at to enjoy art stories from around the nation, peruse the Facts & Figures section, and check out the anniversary calendar.

The National Endowment for the Arts 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 National Endowment for the Arts has encouraged creativity through support of performances, exhibitions, festivals, artist residencies, and other arts projects throughout the country.

The National Endowment for the Arts 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 National Endowment for the Arts 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.

As the federal agency of record on arts research, the National Endowment for the Arts conducts accurate, relevant, and timely research on the value and impact of the arts on our everyday lives. The NEA collaborates with other federal agencies on research efforts, among them, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Recent NEA research shows that arts education is key to creating the next generation of arts participants. Arts education and arts exposure in youth are the two biggest predictors of arts participation in adulthood, much more so than other factors such as education level, urban/rural location, gender, or age (Source: 2012 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts).

For more information, visit and the Art Works Blog, and check out the National Endowment for the Arts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

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