First Annual Report / National Endowment for the Arts / 1966 / 9 minutes (2,200 words)

With the signing of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act on September 29, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson completed the vision supported by John F. Kennedy for a federal council for the arts. The Trump Administration’s newly proposed budget would eliminate the program entirely. Here is an excerpt from the NEA’s First Annual Report from 1966.

“Our civilization will largely survive in the works of our creation. There is a quality in art which speaks across the gulf dividing man from man and nation from nation, and century from century. That quality confirms the faith that our common hopes may be more enduring than our conflicting hostilities. Even now men of affairs are struggling to catch up with the insights of great art. The stakes may well be the survival of civilization.” —Lyndon B. Johnson

With the passage of the National Arts and Cultural Development Act of 1964, the United States Congress recognized the Arts as a vital part of our national life, and not a luxury. It recognized that individuals, governments, educational institutions, and non-artistic enterprises such as business and civic groups, all share the responsibility for our nation’s cultural progress.

At its second meeting, the National Council on the Arts adopted the following policy statement, which reflects the consensus of opinion of the Council:

All Great Societies have been distinguished by a deep devotion to all of the Arts. The National Council on the Arts believes that with our increased leisure and our widespread education, it is imperative that the Federal Government support the Arts more actively, and provide leadership and resources to advance the Arts to a point where our national inner life may be continuously expressed and defined. It is our belief that it is through the Arts that a nation realizes the fullest meaning of its experience. For, as the Arts achieve that order which we term beauty, they also contribute to our awareness of who we are and where we are.

In a society which has always been marked by that special disorder which comes of vast spaces, a highly diversified people, great natural and technical resources, and a rapid tempo of historical change, the Arts are here of utmost importance—not only as a moral force, but as a celebration of the American experience which encourages, clarifies and points to the next direction in our struggle to achieve the promise of our democracy.

The Council is discussing many projects in the Arts which can be readily accomplished. Some of these can be done jointly with various national associations and governmental agencies.

The Council is convinced that the Arts, at the highest level of excellence, must become an enriching part of the daily life of the American people.

The efforts of the National Council on the Arts during the three months since its members were sworn in at the White House, and the mere six months or so of study on the part of its limited staff, are but a beginning.


Over 150 years ago, discussing his own concept of civilization, John Adams said:

I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics, philosophy and commerce; so that their children, in turn, may have the right and privilege to study painting, poetry and music.

On September 3, 1964, President Johnson signed the National Arts and Cultural Development Act creating the National Council on the Arts, the first federal agency to be established by law to “provide such recognition and assistance as will encourage .and promote the Nation’s artistic and cultural progress.”

The legislation creating the Council has been a long time evolving. President Washington recognized the Arts as central to the nation’s well-being in the year 1781 when he said:

“The arts and sciences are essential to the prosperity of the State and to the ornament and happiness of human life. They have a primary claim to the encouragement of every lover of his country and of mankind.”

In a letter to the President of the United States dated Christmas Day, 1826, John Trumbull, President of the American Academy of Fine Arts, proposed “A Plan for the Permanent Encouragement of the Fine Arts by the National Government.” The letter said in part:

I beg permission to submit to your consideration the following plan for the permanent encouragement of the Fine Arts in the United States: public protection has already been extended in a very effectual manner, to various branches of the public industry employed in manufactures of different kinds; and I wish to call the attention of the government to the Fine Arts, which, although hitherto overlooked, may, I trust, be rendered a valuable, as well as an honorable branch of the national prosperity… I cannot but believe, that not only artists and manufacturers would derive great advantage from the adoption of some such plan, but that the honor and the essential interests of the nation would thereby be eminently advanced.

Although the government of the United States has never formulated a tradition of support for the Arts, as may be found in the countries of western Europe, Presidents throughout the nation’s history have given emphasis to artistic achievement as a cornerstone of the nation’s life, and there have been persistent, if unsuccessful, strivings by many members of Congress, from all parts of the nation, to gain official recognition for the Arts.

An Act of Congress in 1880 established the Library of Congress, which over the years has become one of the finest libraries of its kind in the world. A positive step was taken by President Buchanan in 1859 when he appointed a National Art Commission. ’Congress, however, failed to back his action with the necessary appropriations, and this Commission collapsed within two years of its creation.

Even now men of affairs are struggling to catch up with the insights of great art. The stakes may well be the survival of civilization.

After ten years of Congressional deliberations, the Smithsonian Institution was established in 1846 to take care of the bequest of an Englishman, James Smithson. In 1891 the 51st Congress enacted Public Law 159 creating the National Conservatory of Music. Among its trustees numbered many leading figures of the day. This National Conservatory was responsible for bringing Anion Dvorak to America, during which time he wrote the New World_Symphony . In later years repeated efforts were made to reestablish the Conservatory, with no success.

Congressional proposals introduced in 1897 for a National Office of the Arts were ultimately responsible for the establishment of the present National Fine Arts Commission. In response to a request by the American Institute of Architects for a bureau of fine arts in 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed a Council of Fine Arts consisting of thirty members. Incoming President Taft had to abolish the Council for lack of funds. The following year Taft did, however, sign a bill establishing the Fine Arts Commission, a compromise which, while not as ambitious as the original proposal, was nevertheless considered a step forward.

In 1923 the government accepted the responsibility for a gallery of primarily oriental art donated by the late Charles Freer. That gallery, a bureau of the Smithsonian Institution, is now partially supported by federal funds. In 1937 the government accepted a further gift of the Mellon Collection, together with a $15 million building to house it.

The first official unit of the government devoted to art was the Section of Painting and Sculpture, created as a Branch of the Treasury, Department by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934. This section, which as.signed artists the task of decorating federal buildings, appeared to take on permanent status when it became the Section of Fine Arts in 1938, only to have its functions assumed in 1943 by the Office of the Supervising Architect.

No historical background, however brief, would be complete without mention of the federal arts projects of the thirties and early forties. Some of these programs were continued by state and private support.

Such outstanding arts institutions as the Utah Symphony, the Buffalo Philharmonic, and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra owe their founding, in large measure, to these programs. In addition, some of the prominent American artists assisted by these programs were Jackson Pollock, Stuart Davis, Thomas Hart Benton, and the late David Smith.

In the years following World War II, Senator (then Congressman) Javits, continuously introduced legislation to encourage the Arts, and in January 1951 President Truman asked for a report on the state of the Arts with respect to government. A detailed report, dated May 15,1953, was subsequently submitted to President Eisenhower. This report, entitled, “Arts and Government” recommended among other things more funds and an adequate building for the Smithsonian’s National Collection of Fine Arts.

In 1955 the importance of the relationship between government an the Arts was again a matter of national concern. That year in his state of the union message, President Eisenhower advocated a Federal Advisory Commission on the Arts within the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In his message President Eisenhower said:”In the advancement of the various activities which would make our civilization endure and flourish, the Federal Government should do more to give official recognition to the importance of the Arts and other cultural activities.”

It is our belief that it is through the Arts that a nation realizes the fullest meaning of its experience. For, as the Arts achieve that order which we term beauty, they also contribute to our awareness of who we are and where we are.

During the Eighty-fourth Congress a special Subcommittee of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare held a public hearing on the Eisenhower administration’s proposal to create a Federal Advisory Commission, and on a bill to establish a Federal Advisory Council on the Arts. This bill passed the Senate on July 5, 1956, but was subsequently tabled in the House Committee on Education and Labor. In the 85th Congress similar bills were introduced, one by Senator Smith of New Jersey on behalf of the administration, and another by Senators Humphrey, Douglas, and Javits. A public hearing was held

on these proposals, but no further action was taken.

During the same session the Congress passed an Act authorizing the creation of a national center for the performing arts in the National Capital to be named the National Cultural Center. In January 1964, following the death of President Kennedy, President Johnson signed an amendment to this Act, dedicating the center as the official memorial in the National Capital to the late president, and renaming it the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

During the 86th Congress, Senator Humphrey, with the cosponsorship of Senators Murray, Douglas, and Javits, again offered a proposal to establish a Federal Advisory Council. No administration bill was offered in the 86th Congress, and no hearings were held in either House on this proposal. A single hearing was, however, conducted by a Subcommittee under the chairmanship of Senator Yarborough, on a bill introduced by the late Senator Case of South Dakota, providing for a National Academy of Culture. The sole witness at this hearing was Mr. Robert Frost.

During the 87th Congress, President Kennedy, in a message relative to an educational program dated February 6, 1962, urged approval of a measure establishing a Federal Advisory Council on the Arts. The message said, in part:

Our nation has a rich and diverse cultural heritage. We are justly proud of the vitality, the creativity, and the variety of the contemporary contributions our citizens can offer to the world of the arts. If we are to be among the leaders of the world in every sense of the word, this sector of our national life cannot be neglected or treated with indifference. Yet, almost alone among the governments of the world, our government has displayed little interesting fostering cultural development…

Hearings were held not only on the proposal recommended by the President, but on two other bills which had never had the benefit of public airing by any committee. These bills both proposed that the Federal Government make grants either to assist the states to develop programs or projects in the Arts, or to assist professional groups engaged in the performing and visual arts to provide productions of these arts throughout the country.

In October and November 1963 and later, in the Spring of 1964, further hearings were held on bills calling for the creation of a National Council on the Arts and a National Arts Foundation. Eminent witnesses, active in the major fields of the visual and performing arts, came to Washington from all over the nation to testify in support of the legislation. The hearing record, including support from the business and financial community, educators, representatives of Federal and State Governments, senior citizens, talented artists, organized labor, and many others, documents a widespread and growing nationwide approval of the arts legislation. The testimony overwhelmingly favored action by the Congress to establish, within the Federal Govern­ment, agencies to be charged with assisting the growth and development of the Arts throughout the nation. The key legislation was Title I of S. 2379, a combination of two bills brought before the first session of the 88th Congress: S. 1316, introduced by then Senator Humphrey, and S.. 165, introduced by Senator Javits.

Title I provided for a National Council on the Arts. Title II of S. 2579 provided for the establishment of a National Arts Foundation.

Both titles of S. 2379 were passed by the Senate on December 23, 1963. Late in the second session of the 88th Congress, on August 20, 1964, Title I was approved by the House of Representatives as H.R. 9586.The Senate accepted the House version of the legislation the following day.

On September 3, 1964, President Johnson signed the National Arts and Cultural Development Act, Public Law 88-579, into law, and the National Council on the Arts was established.