U.S. Regional Arts Organizations: Grants for College Performing Arts

OVERVIEW: The U.S. Regional Arts Organizations consist six nonprofits dedicated to creating and promoting arts opportunities in six specific regions of the United States. Each organization's higher education grants focus on supporting presenting organizations that feature theater, music, dance, and other performing arts groups. Most higher education funds support colleges, universities, and other venues to offset some of the costs associated with presenting the performance, but specific regional organizations also sometimes offer additional modest funding for areas like project planning and professional development.

IP TAKE: Performing groups supported by USRAO can come from all over the world, but as a presenting venue your application will have to go through the organization responsible for specific regions.

PROFILE: The U.S. Regional Arts Organizations (USRAO) were established in the 1970s with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts in order to strengthen and cultivate arts on a regional level. According to USRAO, "the Regional Arts Organizations and the State Arts agencies collectively receive 40% of the National Endowment for the Arts’ budget." However, each Regional Organization (RO) is run as a non-profit entity, and they also receive significant corporate and foundation support. In addition, each R.O.'s core function is essentially the same, with directives focused on artistic creativity, community engagement, and outreach to underserved communities in the regions in which they operate.

The six R.O.'s and the states they serve are as follows:

  • Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF): Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawai’i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming

  • Arts Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin

  • Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA): Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas

  • New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA): Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont

  • Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation (MAAF): Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, the US Virgin Islands, Virginia, and West Virginia

  • South Arts: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee

Each of these organizations supports performers who come from all over the country and the world. The regional delineation usually refers to where the events happen; the event or show an R.O. funds must be held in a state or territory that falls under its purview. To that end, R.O.s' higher education grantmaking primarily funds colleges and universities that host performing artists.

More specifically, through the Regional Organizations' touring funds, presenting venues can receive support to pay the performers who grace their stages. The specific dollar amounts and calculations vary slightly by region, but broadly speaking, grant funds are allocated to presenting venues to cover a percentage of the performing artist's fees, with the maximum amount usually falling in the several thousand dollar range (in some cases the award may be slightly higher for presenting international artists). 

Grant applications must be submitted by the presenting organization/venue, not the performer. Additionally, the performance needs to be public, and the project and presenting venue often must partner to create a community engagement activity that reaches an underserved audience. This can include components like post-show talkbacks, community workshops, meet-and-greet receptions, or behind-the-scenes tours, as well as performances that target K-12 students, seniors, or those whose access is limited by economics, ethnicity, disability, or geography.

Just as funding levels differ by region, so too do the geographic restrictions on where the performing artists come from. The Mid-America Arts Alliance, for example, requires that performance artists hail from any state other than Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas, even though the performance itself must take place in one of those six states.

In addition, Regional Organizations frequently offer institutional awards unique to their area and focus, so it is important to review your R.O.'s specific grantmaking page. For example, South Arts offers "Presenter Assistance" awards, including "funding of up to $700 [to] support Planning Grants for artist residencies and Travel Grants for professional development." Similarly, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation's funding includes a particular emphasis on venues presenting jazz, independent American films, and joint performances from U.S. and Latin American artists.

R.O.'s also generally list their recent grantees for you to take stock of all the performers who have come through the region, along with the presenting organizations that hosted them.


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