New England Foundation for the Arts: Grants for Theater

OVERVIEW: New England Foundation for the Arts supports artists, presenting organizations, and communities engaging in theater, dance, music, and the visual arts in New England and beyond.

IP TAKE: New England Foundation for the Arts supports organizations throughout the region that showcase performers based throughout the U.S. and abroad. It also encourages these organizations to seek new and interesting performers to bring into their communities.

PROFILE: New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) was established in 1976 as one of six regional arts organizations that received initial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts in order to strengthen and cultivate arts on a regional level. The foundation “invests in artists and communities and fosters equitable access to the arts, enriching the cultural landscape in New England and the nation.” Most of its theater funding derives from the Theater grantmaking program.  Other performance arts (Dance and Music) have specific grants of their own, including those that directly support artistic creation.

For theater creators, NEFA’s coveted grant is its National Theater Project Creation & Touring Grant. Any theater artists who create within a 501(c)(3) organization (or use one as a fiscal agent) are eligible, but these grants are extremely competitive, with approximately six of them distributed each year in amounts that typically range from $80,000 to $130,000. This funding pays for the creation and development process. A portion of this grant is also earmarked for the artists to allocate funds to presenting organizations, who use those funds to pay their artist appearance fees—so it goes right back into the creators’ pockets while relieving presenting organizations of some of their expenses. (This is formally called the NEFA’s National Theater Project Presenting Grant.) Because of this unique set-up, NEFA prioritizes artists who already have a presenting partner or two lined up.

In terms of the artistry itself, NEFA seeks ensemble-created theater (solo pieces are not allowed) that is committed to engaging audiences and communities with “relevance, originality, and/or timeliness.” It prioritizes projects that are wholly theatrical—meaning that they could only exist in the world of theater—but that also push the boundaries of what it means to create for theater.

Past recipients of NEFA’s National Theater Project Creation & Touring Grant are 600 HIGHWAYMEN (Brooklyn, NY), Carpetbag Theatre (Knoxville, TN), Early Morning Opera (Los Angeles, CA); Theater Mitu (New York, NY) and VisionIntoArt (New York, NY). These winning projects collectively integrate music, dance, puppetry, and address issues such as the creation of art, military trauma, and our relationships with memory. The foundation also maintains an extensive and detailed search engine where grant seekers can view previous years’ recipients and read descriptions of each of those projects as well.

Before a presenting organization commits to showcasing this granted theater work, a presenting organization has the opportunity to scope out the work with their travel expenses defrayed by applying for a National Theater Project Presenter Travel Grant. This application process is by invite only, but NEFA welcomes grant seekers to contact them in order to begin this conversation.

The NEFA also provides additional theater support through grant programs that theater “shares” with dance and music. They are all presenter-focused and are built to encourage New England-based presenting organizations (based in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) the opportunity to successfully plan, execute, support, and showcase the work of theater, dance, and music artists from around the world. These groups must have 501(c)(3) status, or be a school or government entity, but need not “formally” be a theater or arts organization.

These funding opportunities include:

  • Expeditions Touring Grants, which provide up to 50 percent of artist fees (maximum $10,000 per partner to cover the cost for multiple performances, residencies, and other contextual outreach activities, travel, accommodations, and per diem.
  • Expeditions Tour Planning Grants, which provide up to $5,000 for the planning of a tour, such as meetings between potential partners, artist showcases for presenters, workshops to build community interest, and artists' travel to visit presenters' communities.
  • New England States Touring Grants, which provide up to 50 percent of the artists' fees (typically ranging from $400 to $4,000) for a New England presenting organization to showcase the work of a performance art group that resides in another New England state.
  • New England Presenter Travel Funds, which provide 50 percent of total expenses (generally ranging from $500 to $700) for presenting organizations to scout festivals, showcases, conferences, or other cultural events where they can see New England-generated artistic work that they may present in their own community.

Even though these four categories have funds going to potential presenting organizations, NEFA still has qualifications for the artistic output they would be showcasing. NEFA has a group of pre-selected New England-based performing arts groups for its New England-specific grants. For its Expeditions grants, NEFA requires that performing arts productions an organization wishes to present display a “high level of artistic quality, exploration, and creativity.”

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