50 Years of M-AAA

50th Anniversary

Mid-America Arts Alliance Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Service to the Arts

Nation’s First Regional Arts Organization Founded in 1972

For 50 years, Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) has brought together the arts and artists to enrich the cultural and creative life in all parts of mid-America. 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 in its region of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas, across the nation, and internationally. This idea of working collaboratively across jurisdictional boundaries to provide access to the arts led M-AAA to become the nation’s first Regional Arts Organization (RAO).

“I send my most heartfelt congratulations to Mid-America Arts Alliance for 50 years of strengthening and supporting artists, cultural institutions, and communities,” said National Endowment for the Arts Chair Maria Rosario Jackson, PhD. “We are so grateful for the NEA’s longstanding partnership with Mid-America Arts Alliance. Regional Arts Organizations like M-AAA are integral to arts ecosystems in this country, and key to ensuring everyone has the opportunity to live an artful life.”

Mid-America Arts Alliance was organized by a group of civic arts leaders who wanted to provide access to visual, performing, and other art experiences for those in middle America who were limited by factors geographical, financial, or otherwise. In 1972, leaders from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Iowa conceived the idea of creating the first regional arts organization by working together to foster arts experiences in their states. The collaborative was incorporated in 1973 in Lincoln, NE, as Mid-America Arts Alliance, and the headquarters moved to Kansas City, MO, in 1974. Oklahoma and Arkansas joined M-AAA in 1980, and Iowa left; and in 1987, Texas joined the Alliance.

“The inherent belief that more can be accomplished in support of the arts by working collaboratively through partnership became evident through the creation of Mid-America Arts Alliance. We realize the incredible impact and importance of sustaining creativity in our region’s communities—large and small,” said Todd Stein, President and CEO of M-AAA. “Just as the arts draw people together, so does the work of M-AAA. Fifty years later, the founding principle of working collectively to empower community through art still applies.”

M-AAA’s first initiatives included touring artists from the St. Louis Symphony, Joffrey Ballet, and others to regional states as well as organizing its first traveling exhibition, called A Sense of Place. Over the past five decades, programs have blossomed and retired as needs change in M-AAA’s work to bring more art to more people. Today, M-AAA continues to award funds to artists and arts organizations for innovative art; to assist in touring artists throughout its region; to develop and travel exhibitions through its program ExhibitsUSA; and to offer professional development resources and engagements.

As a Regional Arts Organization, M-AAA occupies a unique place in the arts ecosystem, empowering and serving artists, arts and cultural organizations, and related agencies across regions through its programs and grant funding.

In 50 years, Mid-America Arts Alliance has awarded more than $51 million in grants to more than 18,000 artists and cultural organizations, and engaged nearly 83 million children and adults in quality and meaningful art experiences. Below are impact numbers about some of M-AAA’s programs and grants.

  • M-AAA’s acclaimed program ExhibitsUSA has traveled 316 exhibitions to 1,417 museums, libraries, university galleries, and other nonprofit venues in 933 urban, suburban, and rural communities across the United States. In total, more than 9.5 million children and adults have participated in ExhibitsUSA since the program’s founding in 1988.
  • M-AAA’s capacity-building programs—HELP (Hands-on Experiential Learning Program) for museums, Engage, and ARt Connect—have assisted 229 small to midsize arts and cultural institutions through intensive professional development opportunities, including cohort-based learning and executive coaching. Nearly 1,300 artists have participated in M-AAA’s celebrated Artist INC, a professional development program created for artists by artists.
  • Through grants from M-AAA, 18,280 artists or artist groups have performed and toured to venues across the region through the Regional Touring Program and its predecessors. Since 2012, more than 150 Artistic Innovations grants, totaling $1.9 million, have been awarded to artists or cultural organizations for projects that lead to the creation of new works of art.

Holbrook Lawson, Chair of the Board of Directors, said, “In coming together to increase arts activity in a region, Mid-America Arts Alliance acted like a tuning fork bringing collaboration across the region. The collective model was quickly replicated by others, and there are now six Regional Arts Organizations across the U.S. The ability to amplify the arts and broaden the reach of the arts in our region by M-AAA is incredible.”

As a Regional Arts Organization, M-AAA works closely in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the state arts agencies in its six-state region: Arkansas Arts Council, Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, Missouri Arts Council, Nebraska Arts Council, Oklahoma Arts Council, and Texas Commission on the Arts. Today, M-AAA is one of six RAOs; the others are Arts Midwest, Mid Atlantic Arts, New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), South Arts, and the Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF).

M-AAA is the only RAO to have received funding from all three of our nation’s cultural agencies—National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Institute of Museum and Library Services.

To learn more about Mid-America Arts Alliance’s mission, values, and goals, and see the current strategic plan, visit maaa.org. To mark this anniversary, weekly stories and impact data will be shared on this site now through June 2023.