On September 29, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 at a White House Rose Garden ceremony, attended by scholars, artists, educators, political leaders, and other luminaries.
The law created the National Endowment for the Humanities as an independent federal agency, the first grand public investment in American culture. It identified the need for a national cultural agency that would preserve America’s rich history and cultural heritage, and encourage and support scholarship and innovation in history, archeology, philosophy, literature, and other humanities disciplines.
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 Representative Frank Thompson (D-NJ), and into the Senate by Senators Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) and Jacob Javits (R-NY). Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI) had overseen hearings on some of this preliminary legislation, beginning in October 1963, before the death of President John F. Kennedy.
Over the years, the NEA and NEH have awarded millions of dollars to Little Rock based institutions, organizations and individuals through direct appropriations. They have also impacted Little Rock cultural life through funding of the Mid-America Arts Alliance, Arkansas Arts Council, Department of Arkansas Heritage, Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism, and U.S. Conference of Mayors among others. These groups have either re-granted the dollars to Little Rock entities or undertaken projects which have directly impacted and improved life in Little Rock.