New England Foundation for the Arts: A National Theater Funder with a Regional Name

Don’t let this foundation’s name fool you. New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) actively and generously gives to theater makers and presenting organizations throughout the United States.

As for how this foundation got its geographically specific name: It was established in 1976 as one of six regional arts organizations receiving initial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts in order to strengthen and cultivate arts on a regional level. Today, NEFA still does operate regional grants and programs (check out its Expeditions Touring Grants, Expeditions Tour Planning Grants, New England States Touring Grants, and New England Presenter Travel Funds if you're a New England-located presenting group).

But NEFA's big theater grants support theater artists and presenting organizations that are creating, developing, and showcasing their projects anywhere in the country.

This starts with the foundation's National Theater Project Creation & Touring Grant. Any theater artists who create within a 501(c)(3) organization (or use one as a fiscal agent) anywhere in the country are eligible. These grants are extremely competitive, with approximately six of them distributed each year in amounts that typically range from $80,000 to $130,000. This money pays for the creation and development process. A portion of this grant is also earmarked for the artists to allocate funds to presenting organizations, which use those funds to pay their artist appearance fees—so it goes right back into the creators’ pockets while relieving presenting organizations of some of their expenses. (This is formally called the NEFA’s National Theater Project Presenting Grant.) Because of this unique setup, NEFA requires that the theater company already have at least one development partner in place, and favors theater artists who also already have a presenting partner or two lined up.

In terms of the artistry itself, NEFA looks for ensemble-created theater (solo pieces aren’t allowed) that is committed to engaging audiences and communities with “relevance, originality, and/or timeliness.” It looks for projects that are wholly theatrical—meaning that they could only exist in the world of theater—but that also push the boundaries of what it means to create for theater.

NEFA’s six 2015 recipients of its National Theater Project Creation & Touring Grant are 600 HIGHWAYMEN (Brooklyn, NY), Carpetbag Theatre (Knoxville, TN), Early Morning Opera (Los Angeles, CA); Theater Mitu (New York, NY) and VisionIntoArt (New York, NY). These winning projects collectively integrate music, dance, puppetry, and address issues such as the creation of art, military trauma, and our relationships with memory. The foundation also maintains an extensive and detailed search engine where you can also view previous years’ recipients, with descriptions of each of those projects as well.

In addition to its National Theater Project Presenting Grant (see above), NEFA also makes one other very useful national-level theater grant available to presenting organizations. Before a presenting organization commits to showcasing a new theater work, a presenting organization has the opportunity to scope it out with their travel expenses defrayed by a National Theater Project Presenter Travel Grant. This application process is by invite only, but NEFA welcomes you to contact them in order to begin this conversation.

For a closer look at how this process might proceed, the Clear Creek Festival in Big Hill, KY first received a $700 Travel Grant in 2014 to scout New Orleans-based Mondo Bizarro’s project Cry You One. The festival liked what it saw, and in 2015 is partnering with Mondo Bizarro to bring the theater project to its festival, with $10,000 in artist fees defrayed through NEFA’s National Theater Project Presenting Grant. Again, the foundation’s search engine allows you to see the scope of presenting organizations that receive travel and presenting grants for these theater projects.

All said and done, in 2014 NEFA provided more than $3.4 million in grants to artists and presenting organizations in New England, throughout the U.S., and internationally. NEFA not only supplies a very detailed search engine sharing all of its previous grantees in all sectors; it also provides very detailed eligibility and deadline information for each grant opportunity. In the world of theater granting, NEFA is as thorough and transparent as they come.

Related - New England Foundation for the Arts: Grants for Theater