New England Foundation for the Arts: Grants for Theater

OVERVIEW: New England Foundation for the Arts operates with the mission “to cultivate and promote the arts in New England and beyond.” It supports artists, presenting organizations, and communities engaging in theater, dance, music and the visual arts.

IP TAKE: Don’t let this foundation’s name fool you; New England Foundation for the Arts actively and generously gives to artists and presenting arts organizations throughout the United States (and sometimes internationally too). Theater is at the forefront of this giving.

PROFILE: New England Foundation for the Arts gets its name half-right. It is a vigorous funder of the arts, but it is not remotely limited in geographic scope to the New England region, also giving heartily to national and even international theater programming.

As for how this foundation got its name: It was established in 1976 as one of six regional arts organizations receiving initial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts in order to strengthen and cultivate arts on a regional level. Today, New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) still does operate regional grants and programs, but also supports theater artists creating, developing, and showcasing their projects anywhere in the country.

NEFA achieves this through a variety of specific grant programs. Some are specific to theater, others share coffers with dance and music programs as well. All of the foundation’s grant programs “aim to provide to provide access to high quality arts experiences for the underserved, including projects that feature artistic expressions from diverse cultures and geographies.” 

Specifically 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 money 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 favors artists who already have a presenting partner or two lined up, and are even more impressed if you have a deeper game plan already in place.

In terms of the artistry itself, NEFA looks for ensemble-created theater (solo pieces aren’t allowed) that is committed to engaging audiences and communities with “relevance, originality, and/or timeliness.” It looks for 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.

NEFA’s six 2015 recipients of its 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 you can also view previous years’ recipients, with 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 you to contact them in order to begin this conversation.

For a closer look at how this process might proceed, the Clear Creek Festival in Big Hill, KY first received a $700 Travel Grant in 2014 to scout New Orleans-based Mondo Bizarro’s project "Cry You One". The festival liked what it saw, and in 2015 is partnering with Mondo Bizarro to bring the theater project to its festival, with $10,000 in artist fees defrayed through NEFA’s Project Presenting Grant. Again, the foundation’s search engine allows you to see the scope of presenting organizations that receive travel and presenting grants for these theater projects.

The NEFA also provides additional theater support through grant programs that theater “shares” with dance and music. They are all presenter-focused, and 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 product an organization wishes to present display a “high level of artistic quality, exploration, and creativity.”

All said and done, in 2014 NEFA provided more than $3.4 million in grants to artists and presenting organizations in New England, throughout the U.S., and internationally. NEFA not only supplies a very detailed search engine sharing all of its previous grantees in all sectors; it also provides very detailed eligibility and deadline information for each grant opportunity. In the world of theater granting, NEFA is as thorough and transparent as they come.

PEOPLE: