First NEA Grant Awarded to The American Ballet Theatre

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Close-up with two dancers on stage, in the background two rows of dancers.

Cynthia Gregory as Odette and Ted Kivitt as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake.
Photo by Martha Swope

1965On December 20, 1965, Vice President Hubert Humphrey presented a check for $100,000, representing the National Endowment for the Arts' first grant, to the American Ballet Theatre. Humphrey, as a Democratic senator from Minnesota, had been a champion of the Arts Endowment's establishment, in tandem with the New York Republican Jacob Javits. The New York Herald Tribune reported: "The Treasury of the United States has saved a national treasure. Not directly, perhaps, but the taxpayers, through the government's recently established National Council on the Arts, saved the American Ballet Theatre from extinction." The American Ballet Theatre has a long and distinguished history. Founded in 1937 as the Mordkin Ballet and reorganized as the Ballet Theatre in 1940, it became the American Ballet Theatre in 1956. Its repertoire has included most of the classical and many of the modern dance works; legends like George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille, Twyla Tharp, and Bronislava Nijinska have staged works for it. Based in New York City, the American Ballet Theatre has made 15 international tours to 41 countries to great acclaim. Since that first grant, the NEA has been an important partner to classical ballet ever since. In 1966, at the National Council on the Arts' fourth meeting, funding was recommended to the Martha Graham Dance Company to make its first national tour in 15 years.