Controversial movies and art have always sparked heated discussions, so it comes as no surprise that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) also births lively debates about the value of public support of the arts. The NEA has been on the chopping block ever since 1987, when it enabled an artist to submerge a crucifix in his own urine. Bold and unafraid, the NEA has always funded a plethora of controversial art, such as the American Film Institute and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Despite its habit of courting controversy, the NEA is responsible for some awesome services such as an arts therapy program for hospitalized military personnel in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. It also introduced theatre and the arts in general to a small Appalachian town that is now bursting with talent and creativity. However, time and time again, the NEA suffers trepidation at being cut from government spending.
Since the NEA's inception in 1965, it has also been responsible for some of the most famous and beloved byproducts of modern American culture. You might be surprised by some of the best musical movies that are among the things to thank the NEA for. Listed here are ways the National Endowment for the Arts has changed culture for the better.
Hamilton may have endured attacks from the executive branch in late 2016, but ironically, the musical only exists because of the executive branch. A $30,000 grant from the NEA provided partial support to Powerhouse Theater’s 2013 staging of The Hamilton Mixtape in New York City, which eventually became the beloved international phenomenon that won, like, 500 Tony Awards.
Lest you start to think that the National Endowment for the Arts is nothing more than a hippie Kickstarter for drama geeks, it might be helpful to know that the NEA funded the beginning stages of construction for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Thanks to the NEA, the American Film Institute (AFI) not only exists, but is able to house and preserve films deemed important to the world of cinema. Sixteen years after founding the AFI in 1967, the NEA worked with its baby organization to create the National Center for Film and Video Preservation. This crucial program is how aliens will be able to know what movies mankind thought were important.
Fun fact: the first films to be preserved were John Ford’s Stagecoach (1949), Victor Flemings’ Joan of Arc (1948), Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), and D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916).
A 1976 grant helped Garrison Keillor’s satirical variety show about small-town Minnesota life transform from a college auditorium curio into a beloved national program that entertains millions of radio listeners. The show's success also inspired a movie adaptation, written by Keillor himself, which garnered critical acclaim when it hit theaters in 2006. Poised to be Lindsay Lohan's comeback film after her partying had started making headlines, A Prairie Home Companion mostly only turned heads for Meryl Streep.