Facebook Instagram Twitter X YouTube LinkedIn RSS

50 Stories | Funding Arts Innovation

By Margaret A. Keough

people float in a pool at night

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.

Austin, Texas­–based Forklift Danceworks activates communities through collaborative process, co-creating theatrical productions with unexpected performers, inspired by the stories of work and place. Forklift Danceworks believes that all people are inherently creative and envisions a world where art, movement, and creativity are at the core of everyone’s daily life. Using a combination of choreography, light, music, and voice, Forklift presents site-specific civic spectacles that reveal the beauty of everyday movement. Forklift credits M-AAA for giving them confidence as artists and opening up opportunities to support their work. They have the distinction of attaining more Artistic Innovations grants than any other organization or individual since the grant’s inception.

Woman with blonde hair and blue shirt and jeans stands with hands on hipsForklift Danceworks’ Founder and Artistic Director Allison Orr shares thoughts on inspiration, gratitude, a current collaboration, and what’s coming up for her organization:

We are inspired by the expert movement of work and daily life. After more than twenty years with Forklift, I am still in awe of the stories I get to hear from the people whose work sustains our daily lives. It is an honor to witness the extraordinary magic that happens when you offer people the chance to share about their work and lives.

My favorite place to explore art is at a work site, truck yard, community meeting, community pool, neighborhood park—the places that people inhabit as part of everyday life—and especially the places art might not typically be witnessed!

Mid-America Arts Alliance was the first major funder to support Forklift outside of Texas! M-AAA’s early support helped us pull off what was our biggest project to that date, PowerUp, a collaborative performance with the public electricity utility in Austin in 2013. The funds from M-AAA helped us produce at a large scale—our stage was a set of twenty full-height utility poles, and we had a total audience of 6,000 people. Having M-AAA as a funder also opened up more fundraising opportunities for us and gave us confidence as artists in our methods and this project. Thank you!

All of us at Forklift are very inspired by our current project, The Way of Water, a global project exploring water and the work of people who steward it. We are learning about science, water, how communities have adapted to living with and around water, and the challenges ahead for us as we experience increased flooding, storms, and drought.

We are excited because this year my book Dance Works: Stories of Creative Collaboration is being published by Wesleyan University Press. Part memoir, part guide, the book offers a look at how to create community-based art projects, how the creative process can bring people together to address civic issues, and the beauty of choreographing the day to day. Once the book comes out, we’re excited to start traveling the country to share our tools and methods with artists, policy makers, community leaders, and others who are interested in bringing diverse communities together.

To hear more from Allison Orr, check out her recent feature in the NEA Art Works podcast.


Images: Allison Orr (above), photo by Jonica Moore; My Park, My Pool, My City (previous image), photo by Amitava Sarkar