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Special Message to the Congress About Funding and Authorization of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities

December 10, 1969

To the Congress of the United States:

Americans have long given their first concerns to the protection and enhancement of Life and Liberty; we have reached the point in our history when we should give equal concern to "the Pursuit of Happiness."

This phrase of Jefferson's, enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, is defined today as "the quality of life." It encompasses a fresh dedication to protect and improve our environment, to give added meaning to our leisure and to make it possible for each individual to express himself freely and fully.

The attention and support we give the arts and the humanities--especially as they affect our young people--represent a vital part of our commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Americans. The full richness of this nation's cultural life need not be the province of relatively few citizens centered in a few cities; on the contrary, the trend toward a wider appreciation of the arts and a greater interest in the humanities should be strongly encouraged, and the diverse culture of every region and community should be explored.

America's cultural life has been developed by private persons of genius and talent and supported by private funds from audiences, generous individuals, corporations and foundations. The Federal government cannot and should not seek to substitute public money for these essential sources of continuing support.

However, there is a growing need for Federal stimulus and assistance--growing because of the acute financial crisis in which many of our privately-supported cultural institutions now find themselves, and growing also because of the expanding opportunity that derives from higher educational levels, increased leisure and greater awareness of the cultural life. We are able now to use the nation's cultural resources in new ways--ways that can enrich the lives of more people in more communities than has ever before been possible.

Need and opportunity combine, therefore, to present the Federal government with an obligation to help broaden the base of our cultural legacy--not to make it fit some common denominator of official sanction, but rather to make its diversity and insight more readily accessible to millions of people everywhere.

Therefore, I ask the Congress to extend the legislation creating the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities beyond its termination date of June 30, 1970, for an additional three years.

Further, I propose that the Congress approve $40,000,000 in new funds for the National Foundation in fiscal 1971 to be available from public and private sources. This will virtually double the current year's level.

Through the National Foundation's two agencies--the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities--the increased appropriation would make possible a variety of activities:

--We would be able to bring more productions in music, theatre, literature readings and dance to millions of citizens eager to have the opportunity for such experiences.

--We would be able to bring many more young writers and poets into our school system, to help teachers motivate youngsters to master the mechanics of self-expression.

--We would be able to provide some measure of support to hard-pressed cultural institutions, such as museums and symphony orchestras, to meet the demands of new and expanding audiences.

--We would begin to redress the imbalance between the sciences and the humanities in colleges and universities, to provide more opportunity for students to become discerning as well as knowledgeable.

--We would be able to broaden and deepen humanistic research into the basic causes of the divisions between races and generations, learning ways to improve communication within American society and bringing the lessons of our history to bear on the problems of our future.

In the past five years, as museums increasingly have transformed themselves from warehouses of objects into exciting centers of educational experience, attendance has almost doubled; in these five years, the investment in professional performing arts has risen from 60 million dollars to 207 million dollars and attendance has tripled. State Arts agencies are now active in 55 States and territories; the total of State appropriations made to these agencies has grown from $3.6 million in 1967 to $7.6 million this year. These State agencies, which share in Federal-State partnership grants, represent one of the best means for the National Endowment to protect our cultural diversity and to encourage local participation in the arts.

In this way, Federal funds are used properly to generate other funds from State, local and private sources. In the past history of the Arts Endowment, every dollar of Federal money has generated three dollars from other sources.


At a time of severe budget stringency, a doubling of the appropriation for the arts and humanities might seem extravagant. However, I believe that the need for a new impetus to the understanding and expression of the American idea has a compelling claim on our resources. The dollar amounts involved are comparatively small. The Federal role would remain supportive, rather than primary. And two considerations mark this as a time for such action:

--Studies in the humanities will expand the range of our current knowledge about the social conditions underlying the most difficult and far-reaching of the nation's domestic problems. We need these tools of insight and understanding to target our larger resources more effectively on the solution of the larger problems.

--The arts have attained a prominence in our life as a nation and in our consciousness as individuals, that renders their health and growth vital to our national well-being. America has moved to the forefront as a place of creative expression. The excellence of the American product in the arts has won worldwide recognition. The arts have the rare capacity to help heal divisions among our own people and to vault some of the barriers that divide the world. Our scholars in the humanities help us explore our society, revealing insights in our history and in other disciplines that will be of positive long-range benefit.

Our creative and performing artists give free and full expression to the American spirit as they illuminate, criticize and celebrate our civilization. Like our teachers, they are an invaluable national resource.

Too many Americans have been too long denied the inspiration and the uplift of our cultural heritage. Now is the time to enrich the life of the mind and to evoke the splendid qualities of the American spirit.

Therefore, I urge the Congress to extend the authorization and increase substantially the funds available to the National Foundation for the Arts and the Humanities. Few investments we could make would give us so great a return in terms of human understanding, human satisfaction and the intangible but essential qualities of grace, beauty and spiritual fulfillment.


The White House

December 10, 1969

Note: The National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities was established by Public Law 89-209 of September 29, 1965 (79 Stat. 485), assuming the functions of the National Council on the Arts.

Also released was the transcript of a news briefing held by Miss Nancy Hanks, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, following a meeting with the President.

Richard Nixon, Special Message to the Congress About Funding and Authorization of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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