Endowing Equity: The NEA’s Expansion Arts Division and Funding the Underfunded, 1971-1995


ACLS Fellowship Program




The history of US arts funding has long been characterized by racial and geographic inequality and a focus on Eurocentric cultural practices, but from 1971 to 1995, the Expansion Arts Division of the National Endowment for the Arts, granted over $170 million (about half a billion dollars today) to minority artists, broadly defined. In an unprecedented effort, the progenitors of Expansion Arts counterbalanced the agency’s otherwise near exclusion of Black, Latino/a/x, Asian, Native American, and rural White artists. The obstacles that Expansion Arts proponents faced, however, defined the struggle for a fair distribution of resources across all segments of society for decades to come: in the program directors’ own words, was it a “ghetto” or a refuge for minority artists – was it a “dumping ground” for rejected applications or a springboard for future growth? Through archival research and interviews with former directors, staff, and grantees, this project is the first history of the Expansion Arts division. As current advocates reignite support for the art of historically underserved communities, understanding the blueprints and legacy of the Expansion Arts Program are critical, as it reflected a racial and class diversity of grant recipients completely unrepresented by other national arts funding bodies.