Arts Midwest: Grants for Music

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, with theater, music, dance, and other performing arts groups coming in from all over the world. 

IP TAKE: Arts Midwest gets its name half right. 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—and music is often the art that's showcased.

PROFILE: Arts Midwest isn’t an entirely inaccurate name, it’s just a bit misleading. It is 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? That’s because Arts Midwest’s focus is on bringing those geographically diverse performance groups—including a wide range of music performance—to its region, and its money primarily goes to those entities in the Midwest who can make that happen: the presenting organizations who can bring them there.

And now a brief geography refresher: The “there” of the Midwest as defined by this organization is Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

The organization 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.”

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 music performance groups and musicians it brings in from anywhere but their own backyard (musicians can be Midwest-based so long as they are not local to the presenting venue). The grant generally covers up to 20 percent of the musical artists’ contract fees, with a standard maximum amount set at $4,000.

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

This music entity 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 music performing group 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." Examples include 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 music. 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 2014-2015 cycle, Arts Midwest Touring Fund awarded more than $400,000 to more than 165 presenting organizations across its nine states. The type of music performance group (single musicians to large ensembles) is varied. The genres of music is eclectic. The mix includes:

  • New York Kammermusiker (based in New York, NY0 presented by Three Rivers Arts Council in Wahpeton, ND. This partnership consisted of a performance focused on music associated with President Theodore Roosevelt (who said he became president because of his experiences in North Dakota) and a visit to the Circle of Nations school, a therapeutic school for Native American students.
  • David Lutken presented by Three Oaks Theater Festival in Three Oaks, MI. The partnership consisted of a public performance of Lutken’s music and theater creation, Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie, and two days of residency activities.

      Arts Midwest’s website has a search engine for you to take stock of all the previous musicians and music performance organizations who have come through the region through the Midwest Touring Arts Fund. Applications—where are made by the presenting organization/venue—are due at the end of March.

      There’s one other grant program of note for music folks, and this one is directly put in the hands of musicians. The catch is that you must be a global music ensemble. This is the Arts Midwest World Fest, which presents international musical ensembles in intensive week-long residencies in smaller Midwest communities. The current two-year cycle of selected musicians is touring right now; check back at the website for the emergence of the 2016-2018 cycle and the opportunity to apply.


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