Why the Arts Mattered to President Nixon
In 2013, Oscar winner and House of Cards superstar Kevin Spacey shared some favorable words for Richard Nixon while shedding some light on the efforts of the President to extend federal support for the National Endowment for the Art and Humanities which celebrates its 50th anniversary today. In a conversation with POLITICO, Spacey, a strong advocate for the arts and humanities, was asked which president had done the most for the arts. His response:
“Richard Nixon. That may be a surprising name for you to hear. But he actually funded the National Endowment for the Arts more than any president had up until that time.”
Spacey was indeed correct. President Nixon’s interest in the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities began in 1969 when Nixon confidant and special counsel Leonard Garment wrote a memorandum to the President recommending that he ask Congress for an amendment and renewal of the authorizing legislation for the Foundation on the Arts and Humanities. View the memo below:
On December 10, 1969 President Nixon sent a special message to Congress about funding and authorization of the foundation. In it, he urged congress to extend legislation creating the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities for an additional three years. Moreover, he proposed that Congress approve $40 million in new funds for the foundation in fiscal 1971, double the amount appropriated in the original NFAH signed into law in 1965 by President Johnson.
The proposals gained wide ranging Congressional support. In July of 1970, Congress approved Senate Bill 3215 and subsequently President Nixon signed it into law. The measure extended for 3 years the authorization for the Foundation beyond its termination date. The bill also moved Congress to approve $40,000,000 in new funds for the Foundation and further appropriations of $60 million in 1972 and $80 million in 1973.
With increased appropriations, The National Foundation would:
- “Bring more productions in music, theatre, literature readings and dance to millions of citizens.
- Bring more young writers and poets into the school system, to help teachers motivate youngsters to master the mechanics of self-expression.
- Provide support to hard-pressed cultural institutions to meet the demands of new and expanding audiences.
- Address the imbalance between the sciences and the humanities in colleges and universities, advocating balance between the ability to discern and the ability to become knowledgeable.
- Broaden and deepen humanistic research into the basic causes of the divisions between races and generations at a time when these divisions were at their peak.”
President Nixon understood the significance of extending and increasing the foundation’s fund.
Year after year, the he acknowledged the vitality of developing wider appreciation of the arts and establishing a greater interest in the humanities. He especially paid homage to the program’s attention to young people doing scholarly work in the humanities, to provide equal concern in education to “the Pursuit of Happiness.” Attention given to the arts and the humanities, especially at a young age, would ultimately enhance the quality of life for all Americans in this pursuit. Indeed, he envisioned a more prosperous future for Americans denied the inspiration and support of America’s cultural heritage.
Despite the stringency of the federal budget, President Nixon defended his calls to expand federal support for the arts and humanities by referring to the essence of societal rifts of his time.
“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.” To more effectively develop larger solutions to larger societal issues, President Nixon believed in greater federal support for a field of study that focused on the perplexity of the human condition. The extension and expansion of federal funding for the arts adds, yet again, to President Nixon’s tremendous record of domestic initiatives.