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50 Stories | Boosting Artists within Their Communities

By Margaret A. Keough

Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) is celebrating its 50th year of ensuring more art for more people—strengthening and supporting artists, cultural organizations, and communities throughout our region and beyond. Founded in 1972, M-AAA has awarded grants to artists and arts organizations, helped to bring cultural programs to communities urban and rural, and empowered creatives throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas; across the nation; and internationally. As part of its anniversary recognition, M-AAA is pleased to share 50 Stories | 50 Years, a weekly series of stories and statements submitted by colleagues, program participants, and others that speak to M-AAA’s profound impact on their lives, creativity, communities, and the region.

ArtsConnect is a nonprofit creative sector support organization in Topeka, Kansas. Executive Director Sarah Fizell describes ArtsConnect’s role in the community as supporting artists and ensuring that “decisionmakers and other stakeholders in Topeka remember that artists bring immense value because of their unique ability to solve problems across all sectors.” Fizell continues, “Our greatest value as an organization is to advocate and organize so that artists have the space and connection they need to undertake works of art that are amazing. It’s really important for cities like Topeka—not the biggest and not the smallest—to have a network of artists who can collaborate and support one another.” Fizell credits M-AAA for supporting and helping ArtsConnect stay on track for success, especially during the “really tough times” of the global pandemic:

Mid-America Arts Alliance has helped the work of ArtsConnect in many ways. We have received grants for various programs and projects over the years, and are preparing for year three of hosting the Artist INC program. We were very intentional in our use of COVID funds, using them in ways that would help position the arts and culture sector and ArtsConnect on a trajectory for success. Now as recovery seems to be on track, we have just completed the Topeka Arts and Culture Master Plan and were recently able to expand our staff. This would not be possible if it were not for the sustenance and support offered by M-AAA in those really tough times; that support enabled us to maintain our trajectory in a very important way. … In the future, ArtsConnect will continue to build stability and sustenance so that artists can continue creating and enlivening the world for the rest of us.

ArtsConnect supports the arts in all disciplines through organizing the First Friday Artwalk, by painting murals, and offering professional development programs like M-AAA’s Artist INC. In spring/summer 2023, ArtsConnect will be painting murals along the Shunga Creek in Topeka, led by artist Mona Cliff, focused on themes of environmental justice and waterway protection. Planning and artist selection are also underway for a large-scale community art engagement project, “Civil Rights Summer 2024,” that will coincide with the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case decision. More information about ArtsConnect’s mural projects is found here.


Image: ArtsConnect’s Sarah Frizell speaks in front of a crowd gathered at a WorkShare, the final Artist INC event during a eight-week session. Photo: Nick Krug