About the NEA

President Johnson signs the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act

1965On this date, President Lyndon Johnson signed P.L. 89-209, the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, in the Rose Garden of the White House. This piece of legislation established the National Endowment on the Arts and the Humanities Foundation as an umbrella for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and their respective councils.

On this occasion, President Johnson said: "Art is a nation's most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish."

This new law was the fruit of two Presidents, several Senators and Representatives, and four previous pieces of legislation. Separate bills had been introduced, in previous years, into the House by Frank Thompson (D-NJ), and into the Senate by Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) and Jacob Javits (R-NY). Those bills were combined and amended in the House into S. 1483, which was passed in the House on September 15, 1965 -- and in the Senate on the following day.  

Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI) had overseen hearings on some of this preliminary legislation, beginning in October 1963, before the death of President Kennedy.  He opened these 1963 hearings with a momentous statement:  "I believe that this cause and its implementation has a worldwide application; for as our cultural life is enhanced and strengthened, so does it project itself into the world beyond our shores… Let us apply renewed energies to the very concept we seek to advance: a true renaissance – the reawakening, the quickening, and above all, the unstunted growth of our cultural vitality."

With Roger L. Stevens appointed as its first Chairman, the National Endowment for the Arts begins its first fiscal year with a budget of $2.5 million dollars, and fewer than a dozen employees. Six programs are started in that first year: Music, Dance, Literature, Visual Arts, Theater, and Education—while some 22 institutions and 135 individual artists are funded by the agency.  Mr. Stevens remarks, "We believe that the time has come for our society to give not merely ceremonial honor to the arts, but genuine attention and substantive support."