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 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.
Andrew R. Gustafson, Curator of Interpretation at the Johnson County Museum in Overland Park, Kansas, demonstrates how M-AAA helps build and strengthen community by supporting arts, culture, and heritage organizations in achieving their strategic goals.
The Johnson County Museum is a history museum located in Overland Park, Kansas, a large suburban area across the state line from Kansas City, Missouri. In addition to our signature exhibition, Becoming Johnson County, the Museum has a special exhibits gallery, which we use to take a deeper dive into relevant and timely topics. We strive to present special exhibits that strengthen connections with the community, giving guests an opportunity to reflect on the present and think more deeply about our collective future. Our relationship with and traveling exhibits from Mid-America Arts Alliance have helped us achieve that goal.
The Johnson County Museum’s strategic plan places great emphasis on better connecting, sharing, collecting, and preserving the county’s diverse histories. Despite a stereotype as a “lily white” suburb, Johnson County has always had a diverse population of residents. Our goal is for all visitors to see themselves in Johnson County’s history, its collections, its exhibits, and its programming.
Within the past two years, we have created robust in-house exhibitions on local quilt making, Mid-Century Modern furniture, and redlining and suburbanization; we have also presented traveling exhibitions from Mid-America Arts Alliance, specifically Thrift Style about feed sack clothing, and Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland. While the Johnson County Museum is not an art museum, we benefit from close relationships with arts organizations and often include artwork in our exhibitions. The Museum’s relationship with M-AAA has enhanced our ability to present well-researched humanities and arts-based exhibitions that fit within our special exhibit gallery space (something that appears to be unique to M-AAA right now). In 2019–20, the Museum displayed the M-AAA exhibit Savages and Princesses: The Persistence of Native American Stereotypes, a collection of Indigenous-created artwork that was accompanied by humanities-based panels exploring the tough history and continuation of Indigenous stereotyping. The upcoming exhibition Away from Home: Indian Boarding School Stories will help the community understand difficult periods in its history and the history of its state, and will connect the Museum with Native scholars and community members, sharing stories through related programming and social media activity.
The Johnson County Museum’s goal with its special exhibits is to help the community understand its history and to provide a place to have conversations about our future. Through their mix of material culture, humanities research, and artwork, exhibitions from M-AAA like Savages and Princesses, Thrift Style, and Away from Home help the Museum present relevant and powerful subjects in an approachable way.
M-AAA Impact Fact
Since it’s founding in 1988, ExhibitsUSA, M-AAA’s national art program, has traveled more than three hundred exhibitions to more than 1,500 venues in nearly one thousand communities across the US.
image: installation view of Savage and Princesses exhibition on view at Johnson County Museum, Overland Park, KS