The Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) is a regional arts council based in Kansas City. The M-AAA supplies grant funding, professional development, and other support to the arts throughout a 6-state region: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. With an annual budget around $4.1 million, it served over 1,500 artists and impacted over 467,000 individuals in 2017.
What the M-AAA does
There are four main areas of program expenses for the M-AAA: grants, exhibitions, professional development, and artist business development.
Grants The M-AAA provides grants through two avenues: directly to artists via Artistic Innovations, and to organizations presenting public events through the Regional Touring Program. Details are too much for this space, please do check out their web page.
Exhibitions In partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the M-AAA presents touring exhibits across the country. These can be seen from Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas, where the M-AAA traditionally supports, all the way to Maine, Florida, Alaska, and Arizona. These truly do have national reach.
And the M-AAA also combines resources with ExhibitsUSA to bring varied exhibitions to varied audiences. They can cover subjects ranging from Johnny Cash to Hawaiian shirts to microfocus images of insects.
More information on exhibitions, including a schedule, can be found here.
Professional Development The ENGAGE program currently operates only in Kansas City and Houston. Through this program, M-AAA provides development resources for local small to mid-size organizations. Resources enhance the knowledge base regarding governance, fundraising, financial management, and community engagement. The goal is to increase the efficiency of these groups, ensure greater impact, and enable long-term sustainability.
Artist Development The Artist INC program takes a different approach. This works with individual artists not on their craft (how to paint more realistically) but on their business (how to make it as a professional artist). The programs run independently in various cities. Currently they are available in Argenta and Springdale Arkansas; Austin and Houston, Texas; Lawrence, Kansas; Omaha, Nebraska; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
More information on ENGAGE and Artist INC at this link.
Who Supports Them
Foundations, individual donors, and grants. There is a nearly equal split currently between grant money ($1.2 million), contracted services ($1.3 million), and contributions ($1.4 million). This feels like a very balanced portfolio. Kudos to the M-AAA for ensuring that there is no single source of funding that everything hangs upon.
Within the individual donors listed on the 2017 Annual Report, I notice a few names in the $100,000+ category (foundations all), and, as could be expected, increasing numbers as the size decreases. However, I expected a greater number of smaller (<$500) donors. There were only 53 listed; this seems small for an organization receiving over a million dollars in contributions. Perhaps there is an opportunity to expand the M-AAA’s reach to more individuals and broaden their base of support.
Challenges On the Horizon
Because a major funding source is grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, budgetary restrictions there will certainly be felt at the regional level.
Plus, as more and more of our society’s interactions take place across online / mobile platforms, I foresee that organizations like this could end up fighting to justify traditional art forms. Rather than actually expanding artwork, supporting artists, and enhancing local groups, the M-AAA may have to “go back to the beginning”, so to speak, and advocate for art itself. That would certainly feel like a bit of a setback.
I’m encouraged, however, by the varied programs that M-AAA is currently investing in. Since ENGAGE is only in two locations, expansion to more major metropolitan areas within their geographic footprint is a natural step.
And with the Artist INC also in a similar growth mode, replication of this process throughout not only the region but across the country would be a great way to broaden the M-AAA’s impact and reach.
Despite the potential for increased online engagement to drive down in-person artistic participation, there is a large opportunity for M-AAA and other similar programs to harness mobile platforms for enhancement of their experiences. Perhaps M-AAA could partner not just with artists, but business collaborators, marketing agencies, app developers, and others on the forefront of future technology to ensure their programs integrate these recent developments. Rather than feeling intimidated by uncertain losses, the M-AAA could use these channels to drive more attendance at exhibitions and galleries; spread word-of-mouth farther and faster than ever before; and create interactive programs which harness social media rather than compete with it.
I think regional arts agencies like M-AAA have an incredible potential for the future. And, with community engagement and expanding artistic impact at the forefront, they will continue to impact lives in innumerable ways. Especially as they continue to promote plans like travel reimbursement funds available to artists residing more than 150 miles from Kansas City. More programs like this, with more funding for more artists, will truly help the M-AAA make More Art for More People.
Check out the video made to celebrate 50 years of the National Endowment for the Arts.