Arts Midwest: Grants for Theater

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 it's theater that often ends up on these Midwest stages.

PROFILE: Arts Midwest's name 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 theater—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's mission is to “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 theater companies and theater artists it brings in from anywhere but their own backyard (the theater 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 theater artists’ contract fees, with a standard maximum amount set at $4,000.

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

This theater group of excellence 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 theater 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.

Arts Midwest has put together a star-based rubric to help measure the strength of a presenting organization/performance group's application.

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 theater in that mix includes:

  • L.A. Theatre Works (based in Venice, CA) presented byLuther College in Decorah, IA. The partnership consisted of a public performance and a K-12 performance of In the Heat of the Night, as well as campus and community wide discussions surrounding the themes of the performance and how they play out in the community today.
  • TeAda Productions and Leilani Chan (based in Santa Monica, CA) presented by InterMedia Arts in Minneapolis, MN. The partnership consisted of a public performance of Global Taxi Driver and seven days of residency activities.
  • David Lutken presented by Three Oaks Theater Festival in Three Oaks, MI. The partnership consisted of a public performance of Lutken’s play 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 theater groups 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 theater folks, and this one is directly put in the hands of theater companies. The catch is that you must be performing the Bard. This is the Shakespeare in American Communities project, which Arts Midwest operates with the National Endowment for the Arts.

Shakespeare in American Communities brings Shakespearean performances to middle and high school students in underserved schools throughout the U.S.—this is a national program. Non-profit theater companies apply to be granted funds (up to $25,000, which then must be matched 1:1) to perform for and engage with a minimum of 10 schools. Shakespeare in American Communities has its own website where you can get the entire low-down if the Elizabethan Era is part of your theater repertoire.

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