NEA's 'Masterpieces': A Tour With Less Force

A panel from Jacob Lawrence's
A panel from Jacob Lawrence's "Migration Series" that is part of the Phillips Collection. Sixteen of the panels will be in the traveling exhibition. (The Phillips Collection)
By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 21, 2005

The National Endowment for the Arts has scaled back a new initiative to send the best of American culture around the country and is starting with only a tour of visual arts.

Earlier plans included dance and music components.

Among those selected to participate in the first year of "American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius" is the Phillips Collection. The NEA announced yesterday that it is giving the Phillips a grant of $100,000 to support a traveling exhibition of 20th-century painter Jacob Lawrence.

"We are going to put together a small but nutritious exhibition that shows the originality of Lawrence, how he was an important new voice in American visual arts in the 1940s and how he tells a great American story," said Jay Gates, director of the Phillips.

The exhibition will consist of 16 panels about African American life from Lawrence's well-known "Migration Series." The Phillips purchased 30 of the panels in 1942 and has been at the forefront of Lawrence scholarship. The gallery is developing a new brochure for the tour that will include material from interviews with Lawrence that have never been published. The museum has to match the NEA money, which Gates predicted wouldn't be hard because "Lawrence is such a beloved figure."

The Lawrence show will have three stops to be named later.

Participants in the first American Masterpieces programs are receiving almost $1.2 million. Late last year, Congress approved $2 million for the project, far less than the $18 million the White House had requested. Legislators on Capitol Hill said it was the best they could do in an extremely tight funding year.

The plan is designed to take touring programs to communities outside major arts centers. The NEA retooled the project after the cuts, shelving the dance and music components. Other tours will include an exhibit on the history of silver design, from the Dallas Museum of Art; a photography show from the George Eastman House; paintings from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum; works by Native American artists from New York's Museum of Arts & Design; and art from the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Also yesterday, the NEA announced grants totaling $61 million for other projects. In recent years, applications for NEA funds have increased substantially, but the grant money hasn't grown, forcing the agency to slice the pie thinner. As the largest source of arts grants in the country, the NEA awards about 2,200 grants a year.

Some regional organizations received modest grants. The American String Teachers Association in Fairfax got $48,000 for career development programs, and the Washington Chu Shan Chinese Opera Institute in Silver Spring received $19,000 for education programs. The African Continuum Theatre Coalition and GALA Hispanic Theatre got $25,000 and $32,000, respectively, for productions.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company