Arts Midwest

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Arts Midwest, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is one of six not-for-profit regional arts organizations created to “encourage development of the arts and to support arts programs on a regional basis.”[1] Arts Midwest's mission is to "promote creativity, nurture cultural leadership, and engage people in meaningful arts experiences, bringing vitality to Midwest communities and enriching people’s lives.”[2] Arts Midwest is primarily funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and is charged with supporting artists and arts organizations, and providing assistance to its nine member states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.


Regional arts programs first emerged in the late 1960s in response to a need for greater access to performing arts touring in areas isolated from major cultural centers. The development of RAOs was encouraged in 1973 by the NEA House reauthorizing committee, which stated its belief that:

Cooperation among states in their activities to support the arts can significantly serve the purposes of this act… It is felt that the regional approach would better serve the cultural needs of the people in many areas by allowing the full utilization of the resources of several states to be brought to bear where special needs exist.[3]

The legislation creating RAOs was introduced by Public Law 93-133.[4] Since 1973, the United States Congress has set aside a specific appropriation within the NEA budget for the states and their regional organizations. The RAOs, which include Arts Midwest, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the New England Foundation for the Arts, South Arts, and the Western States Arts Federation, use this funding to coordinate the touring and presenting of visual and performing arts programs in the United States.

Arts Midwest was formed in 1985 through the merger of two RAOs, the Affiliated State Arts Agencies of the Upper Midwest and the Great Lakes Arts Alliance. It is supported by the NEA’s appropriation, as well as private support in the forms of individual gifts, corporate and foundation grants, and dues paid by member State Arts Agencies.


Arts Midwest World Fest identifies and tours global music ensembles to small and rural Midwest communities to conduct week-long residencies. Residencies include public performances; workshops and concerts with K – 12 students; and community outreach activities.

The Arts Midwest Touring Fund supports the inter-state touring of professional performing artists specializing in dance, theater, music, youth and family entertainment. Through this fund, Arts Midwest provides grants to presenting organizations to conduct public performances and educational activities to audiences in the Arts Midwest region.

The annual Arts Midwest Conference is a booking and educational conference for the performing arts in the United States. The Conference is managed by Arts Midwest and serves the 15 states represented by Arts Midwest and Mid-America Arts Alliance.

ArtsLab is a learning and technical assistance program that aims to strengthen urban and rural arts organizations in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Caravanserai: A place where cultures meet is a cultural exchange program that brings artists from predominantly Muslim societies to American communities with the goal of encouraging greater understanding and acceptance. Caravanserai is produced by Arts Midwest on behalf of its fellow Regional Arts Organization. The program is supported by a lead grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

Arts Learning Xchange is a program that supports learning events and networking among Twin Cities metro area arts organizations. It is funded by the Wallace Foundation in collaboration with Minnesota Community Foundation.

Arts Midwest manages several national initiatives for the National Endowment for the Arts:

  • The Big Read is an program of the NEA managed by Arts Midwest. It was created in response to Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America,[5] a report issued in July 2004 by the NEA that identified issues facing literary reading. The mission of the Big Read is “to bring together partners across the country to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment.”[6]
  • Shakespeare in American Communities supports professional theatrical productions of William Shakespeare for middle and high school students by annually providing grants to professional theater companies.
  • NEA Jazz Masters Live supports programs that feature and honor NEA Jazz Masters. The initiative aims to introduce audiences to the genre of American Jazz and its musicians.

Past Programs[edit]

In 2009, Arts Midwest worked in collaboration with its partner Regional Arts Organizations on Global Positioning Strategy for the Arts: Recommitting America to International Cultural Exchange,[7] a report that outlines a set of policy recommendations for the Obama Administration on increasing investment in and capacity for international cultural exchange.

From 2008-2010, Arts Midwest coordinated an international component of The Big Read, The Big Read Egypt/U.S. The Big Read Egypt/U.S. was a Global Cultural Initiative project of the U.S. Department of State and the NEA in partnership with Arts Midwest, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The program introduced communities in Egypt to American literature: 'Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury),''To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee), and ''The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck), and has exposed US communities to Egyptian author ''Naguib Mahfouz’s The Thief and the Dogs.

Arts Midwest partnered with the Ohio Arts Council and the Columbus Museum of Art in 2000 to tour Illusions of Eden: Visions of the American Heartland. This exhibition focused on the American Midwest and included approximately 100 paintings and photographs created during the period between World War I and World War II. These works surrounded four large-scale sculptural projects created by contemporary artists Maya Lin, Mary Lucier, Kerry James Marshall, and Malcolm Cochran. Illusions of Eden was organized around the themes of garden, home, work, word, and journey.

In 2002, Arts Midwest partnered with the Ludwig Museum in Budapest on The View from Here: Recent Pictures from Central Europe and the American Midwest, an exhibition that explored regional identity as envisioned by artists from the American Midwest and Central Europe. Four themes shaped The View from Here: natural landscape, built or constructed environments, social commentaries gleaned through the artists’ observations and experiences, and reflections on cultural values.

Arts Midwest partnered with The Decorative Arts Center of Ohio in 2006 on the exhibition Russel Wright: Living with Good Design. The exhibition featured American designer Russel Wright’s designs for housewares, furniture, appliances, and fabrics from the 1930s to the late 1950s.

In 2009, Arts Midwest and the Columbus Museum of Art organized Stories of the Somali Diaspora: Photographs by Abdi Roble. This exhibition consists of 55 black and white images documenting Somali immigrants as they adjust to living in the United States. The exhibition is part of The Somali Documentary Project, a larger documentary initiative by the artist.


External links[edit]


  1. ^ US Regional Arts Organizations.
  2. ^ Arts Midwest.
  3. ^ US Regional Arts Organizations, History. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-07-11. Retrieved 2010-05-18.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ US Congress (1973). National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Amendments, The Library of Congress.
  5. ^ National Endowment for the Arts (2004). Reading At Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America. Research Division Report #46. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-05-27. Retrieved 2010-05-18.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ National Endowment for the Arts. The Big Read.
  7. ^ US Regional Arts Organizations (2009). Global Positioning Strategy for the Arts: Recommitting America to International Cultural Exchange.