Arts Midwest: Grants for Dance

OVERVIEW: Arts Midwest is the regional arts organization tasked with creating and promoting arts opportunities in that region. Its grants focus on supporting presenting organizations that have theater, music, dance, and other performing arts groups coming in from all over the world. 

IP TAKE: Its grants primarily go to presenting organizations, and those must be in the Midwest. But in terms of the performance arts group who can occupy that performance slot and benefit from that grant? Those groups can come from anywhere in the world. Dance often ends up on these Midwest stages, but unlike other funders, Arts Midwest seems to encourage eclectic dance style rather than traditional ballet.

PROFILE: Arts Midwest got its name in 1984 after the merger of two other organizations that were established as an outflow of 1970s funding from the National Endowment for the Arts in order to strengthen and cultivate arts on a regional level. And, in fact, Arts Midwest’s mission directly taps into this, with a directive that “promotes creativity, nurtures cultural leadership, and engages people in meaningful arts experiences, bringing vitality to Midwest communities and enriching people’s lives.”

It's a vigorous funder of the arts, but those arts come from all over the country—and the world. The reason for the “Midwest” in the organization’s name is because Arts Midwest’s focus is on bringing geographically diverse performance groups—including a wide range of dance performance—to its region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin). Its money primarily goes to those entities in the Midwest who can make that happen: the presenting organizations.

As for the grants Arts Midwest gives, this mission primarily plays out in one big way: through its Arts Midwest Touring Fund. This grant is earmarked for presenting organizations in these nine states to use to pay the dance companies and dancers it brings in from anywhere but their own backyard (the dance group can be Midwest-based so long as its not local to the presenting venue). The grant generally covers up to 20 percent of the dance artists’ contract fees, with a standard maximum amount set at $4,000.

If you’re a Midwest presenting venue, or a dance project looking to lure a presenting venue in, how do you qualify? First, make sure the dance project and its artists display “excellence and merit.” Arts Midwest does not define what it means by this, but a look at the dance companies that have recently appeared in the region (see below) will give you a sense of what that means in practice.

This dance group of excellent and merit must then perform for the public. This seems obvious, but Arts Midwest lists it as a primary talking point. Less obvious, perhaps, but certainly fitting given the organization’s mission to connect the arts with its regional community, the dance project and the presenting venue must partner to create a community engagement activity and reach an underserved audience. Examples of community engagement activities include post-show talkbacks, community workshops, meet-and-greet receptions, and behind-the-scenes tours.

Performances that target K-12 students or seniors also qualifies as a community engagement activity. This targeting also qualifies as reaching an underserved audience, which also includes those who are limited by economics, ethnicity, disability, or geography.

Arts Midwest has put together a star-based rubric to help measure the strength of a presenting organization/performance group's application. Applications get one star for hitting each of these following value-added aspects:

  • Meaningfulness of the community engagement
  • Accessibility to geographically underserved communities
  • Engagement of a special population, such as adults or students with disabilities, veterans, tribal communities, adults or youth in the justice system, and "communities of shared heritage"—Arts Midwest gives the examples of "Hispanic/Latino, Swedish, Somali."
  • Presenting an artist who resides in the Midwest (but not in the state in which the performance will take place)

You'll note, in this star system, that value is placed on Midwest-based dance. But if you're not Midwest based, the presenting organization wishing to bring you in can absolutely still rise to the top of the application pile. Recent awardees are proof of that.

For its 2015-2016 cycle, Arts Midwest Touring Fund awarded more than $390,000 to more than 160 presenting organizations across its nine states. Recent dance in the mix is stylistically eclectic and notably different from other dance funders—because traditional ballet is not represented here. Arts Midwest’s website lists its recent grantees for you to take stock of all the previous theater groups who have come through the region through the Midwest Touring Arts Fund. Applications—which are submitted by the presenting organization/venue—are due in the spring.

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