Western States Arts Federation: Grants for Visual Arts

OVERVIEW: Western States Arts Federation is the regional arts organization tasked with creating and promoting arts opportunities in that region. Its grants focus on supporting presenting organizations by financially incentivizing the opportunity for music, dance, theater, literary and visual arts projects and programs to head west.

IP TAKE: Western States Arts Federation grants go to organizations in western states that present the work of visual artists who also reside in western states. Within this geographic confine, a range of opportunity is available.

PROFILE: Western States Arts Federation gets its name because it focuses on bringing artists to those western states. For its other types of arts giving (music, theater, dance, and literary arts) its name fails to characterize the organization’s worldliness, because the artists who show up are coming from all around the globe. But in the visual arts realm, the name suits, because the federation is singularly focused on the American West.

And now, inevitably, a geography primer: Western States Arts Federation’s definition of“western” includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

For its visual arts grants, this all relates to the federations Visual Arts Exhibition Touring Program, which also like its name describes, supports tours of visual arts exhibitions. The visual artists exhibited must also live or work in the west (or "have resided or worked in the west," an interesting potential loophole), though in a different state than the potential presenter. In other words, this grant program is looking to promote "worldliness" within its limited geographic region.

The program is also looking for good art, which is subjective, of course. So Western States Arts Federation qualifies this as describing that visual arts organizations seeking a grant must show the work of an "important" and "notable" regional artist. The federation will provide matching funds of up to $50,000 for its grantees.

Matching grants of up to $50,000 are available to visual arts organizations that originate exhibitions of notable artists from the WESTAF region. To qualify for funding, the exhibition must also tour outside of the originating state but within the WESTAF region.” 

The organization is completely open to all sorts of presenting organizations—performance halls, community centers, museums, parks, college campuses, high school theaters, and more—so long as they’re in one of these 13 states and are of the non-profit variety.

For its theater grants, this all relates to the federation’s TourWest program, which subsidizes presenting groups to showcase out of state theater troupes(as well as those in the music, dance, and literary realms). It’s a subsidy because the program pays for up to 50 percent of the theater artists' fees, up to $2,500.

Strong applicants will have a solid history of successfully bringing performers to its venue, and will have a well-articulated plan, including a collaboration with other presenting organizations in the region—meaning that the time and costs for those traveling thespians will amount to maximum performance and exposure.

In addition to a minimum of one public performance, the TourWest program also requires that the theater group being presented engage in an outreach activity. Examples of these include lectures, demonstrations, master classes, or in-school educational activities that engage students with the theater artists.

Part of the reason this outreach component is mandatory is because Western States Arts Federation views engagement with “underserved and/or culturally diverse” audiences as important criteria. Be mindful of this as you pitch the theater project you wish to present.

And perhaps needless to say, Western States Arts Federation also wants those theater performances to be of high quality. “Artistic excellence” is at the very top of its list of criteria for selection. Interestingly, this not only includes the theater they create, but the context in which they create it; “relevance and potential impact of the artist/company in relation your community” is another key aspect the federation would like to know about.

A small sample of some recent theater artists presented through TourWest grantees include:

  • The McCarter Theatre Center Company (based in Princeton, NJ) presented by Alaska Junior Theater in Anchorage;
  • Aquila Theatre (based in New York, NY) presented by the Sangre de Cristo Arts & Conference Center in Pueblo, CO;
  • The Acting Company (based in New York, NY) performing Hamlet, presented by the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, ID; Nampa Civic Center in Nampa, ID; and the Alberta Bair Theater in Billings, MT.
  • The Nebraska Theatre Caravan (based in Omaha, NE) presented by the Admiral Theatre Foundation in Bremerton, WA.

TourWest applications are an online process, and due at the beginning of April each year for tours starting the following September.

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