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NEA Panel Chooses Design for Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial

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A young woman dressed in black is reflected on the polished surface of the memorial

The National Endowment for the Arts helped fund a site study and assisted with the design competition for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which has provided millions of visitors with a place to grieve and reflect.
Photo courtesy of Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

1981In November of 1980, the Council for the Arts approves a funding request from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to support a competition to select the design team for the National Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, DC.  This competition was ultimately won by Maya Lin, then an undergraduate student at Yale University, who had taken on the project as part of a school design studio.

The Memorial's design was selected through a national design competition open to all U.S. citizens. Ultimately, 1,421 design entries were submitted, and then judged anonymously by a jury of eight internationally recognized artists and designers. Construction of the 247-foot wall began on March 16, 1982, and was completed in October. Today, there are 58,249 names engraved on the wall; each was etched by a computer using a process called photo stencil gritblasting. The special granite came from quarries in Bangalore, India and was cut in Vermont.

Maya Lin’s winning design is widely considered one of the best public memorials built in the last century: a long slash of polished black granite set below ground level, where visitors descend to read the names of the dead in ever taller columns, and then slowly ascend as the list dwindles. Flags and letters are routinely left as markers; and visitors often rub the imprint of a cherished name onto a piece of paper. It is thought to be the most visited memorial in Washington, D.C.