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Artistic Innovations

As part of its annual Artistic Innovations grant program, Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) recently awarded nineteen grants totaling $255,418. These awards grant up to $15,000 for the creation of artworks and creative projects by artists and nonprofit organizations across M-AAA’s region of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The following grantees were selected from 110 applications requesting more than $1.4 million and were peer reviewed by panels organized by artistic discipline.

Learn more about FY23’s Artistic Innovations Grant Recipients and their projects, organized by discipline.

Dance projects, four grants totaling $60,000

Karen Castleman, Rogers, Arkansas
Grant: $15,000
Project: Art off the Walls: Dance in the Museum Series
Karen Castleman is the director of Art Off the Walls: Dance in the Museum, a year-long series of site-specific choreography that engages in meaningful dialogue with artwork in museum spaces, increasing exposure for dance outside the traditional stage. Castleman and her choreographic partners will create public performances and outreach events at The Momentary, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and 21C Bentonville, all in Northwest Arkansas. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for Karen Castleman, a past participant of M-AAA’s Artists 360 program.

Regina Klenjoski Dance Company, Wichita, KS
Grant: $15,000
Project: The Golden Apple
The Golden Apple is an original contemporary dance work, drawing upon a Macedonian folk tale about power and stewardship. The work is meant to spark dialogue about the commodification of the earth’s resources and will be adapted into a 45-minute educational version that will tour to rural schools in Kansas. This is the second Artistic Innovations grant for Regina Klenjoski Dance Company.

Perpetual Motion Modern Dance, Oklahoma City, OK
Grant: $15,000
Project: The Big Voices Project
Perpetual Motion Modern Dance’s The Big Voices Project will partner directly with military and/or military-connected individuals to bring a meaningful movement experience to all involved. Through interviews and a series of movement workshops and classes where artists and military veterans will collaboratively create choreography, the project will offer a unique perspective on military-inspired stories and culminate in a final performance in Oklahoma. This is the third Artistic Innovations grant for Perpetual Motion Modern Dance.

Allison Orr Dance/Forklift Danceworks, Austin, TX
Grant: $15,000
Project: Dances for a Watershed
This project is a multi-year artistic residency for Forklift Danceworks with the City of Austin Watershed Protection Department (WPD), community organizations, and neighborhoods in Austin, Texas. Forklift’s seventh collaboration with a City of Austin department, the project was designed to facilitate collaboration on local environmental challenges. Phase One consists of the collaborative creation of a new site-specific dance performance inspired by WPD’s work to maintain creeks and waterways. Surrounding arts-based community engagement activities will support WPD in creatively engaging Austin residents in the shared stewardship of the city’s watersheds. The premiere performance will be presented November 10­–12, 2022, at the new Waterloo Park, a 1.5-mile urban ecosystem, in downtown Austin. This is the fourth Artistic Innovations grant for Allison Orr Dance/Forklift Danceworks.

Film and Media Arts projects, three grants totaling $45,000

M.J. Alexander, Oklahoma City, OK  https://www.mjalexander.com
Grant: $15,000
Project: Sound Trekking: Norman
Sound Trekking: Norman is a site-specific public art installation that fuses spoken word, original music, and sound design with interactive technology to create an ever-evolving sonic dimension in the green spaces of Norman, Oklahoma. Leveraging the power of nature and immersive art, Sound Trekking: Norman invites visitors to explore the city’s Andrews Park through a free GPS-driven phone app. Visitors will be immersed in original music and sound design created to reflect and illuminate the surroundings. The custom soundscape responds to listeners’ path, movements, and moments of rest, and other variables such as the direction traveled, weather conditions, and the time of day. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for M.J. Alexander.

Naima Lowe, Tulsa, OK
Grant: $15,000
Project: Liminal Landscapes
Liminal Landscapes is an essay film connecting visual and sonic meditations on queer embodiment, Black utopian imaginings, and the windy stillness of Oklahoma’s landscape and unique biome. The film will ask “How does a body that isn’t supposed to survive in the deeply conservative heartland of America’s high plains imagine itself into existence?” This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for Naima Lowe who has been selected for M-AAA’s Interchange program.

Steven Snell, Kansas City, MO
Grant: $15,000
Project: Adventure Art on the Mighty MO’
The video series Adventure Art on the Mighty MO’ will share life along the Missouri River told through the act of painting and paddling its 2,341 miles. Each episode takes place at a different site along the river, in which a plein-air watercolor painting is made. The painting acts as a vessel through which larger questions are asked, observations made, and river stories told. The image of the Missouri River is complicated and often contradictory; there are dangerous unknowns and relatively few people on it, yet it is the longest river in North America and is a vital water resource for millions. The intention of this work is to create an entertaining, updated portrait of the river, while challenging some of the stereotypes associated with it. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for Steven Snell.

Literature projects, one grant of $7,600

Public Poetry, Houston, TX
Grant: $7,600
Project: Deaf Poetry
This grant will support the work of Public Poetry in showcasing Deaf poets on an ongoing basis at its monthly reading series and annual REELpoetry Festival in Houston. The creativity of Deaf poets using ASL is exciting to watch. ASL is its own language, with its own grammar and vocabulary, and it embodies a complex form of manual communication in which hands, limbs, head, facial expression, and body language are used to communicate a visual-spatial language without sound. In this context, the conventions of repetition, rhyme, alliteration, rhythm, and meter construct linguistic patterns that add emphasis, meaning, and structure to ASL poetry. The animation and gestures of a signed poem deliver a fresh dimension to the art form, and offer innovative experiences for both the Deaf and non-deaf. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for Public Poetry.

Music projects, two grants totaling $23,600

Kinetic Ensemble, Houston, TX
Grant: $8,600
Project: Her: A Concerto for Violin, Dancers, and Chamber Orchestra
Kinetic Ensemble, Houston’s conductorless string orchestra, will commission a concerto for violin, dancers, and chamber orchestra by Houston-based Korean American composer Nicky Sohn. The work’s premiere will take place at MATCH Houston in March 2023 and features the choreography of African American dancer/choreographer Kayla Collymore, violinist Mary Grace Johnson, and an all-female cast of dancers. Titled Her, the project’s goal is to promote the work of talented young women in the arts and provide a voice for marginalized women from all walks of life. The choreography of the twenty-minute concerto is inspired by clients of the Women’s Home Houston, a rehabilitation and support center for women overcoming addiction. Additional educational outreach is also planned. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for Kinetic Ensemble, a past participant in M-AAA’s Engage program in Houston.

Sonny Mehta/Riyaaz Qawwali, Houston, TX
Grant: $15,000
Project: The Female Divine
In this project, the world music ensemble Riyaaz Qawwali will feature a female vocalist—Chandrakanta Courtney—for the first time. Together, they will perform the poetry of female poets, a perspective that has never before been sung in traditional qawwali songs. The concert will be preceded by two outreach and educational engagements, including a master class introducing choir and band students to the qawwali genre. A community discussion will explore the lyrics. The Urdu and Punjabi poetry will be translated. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for Sonny Mehta and Riyaaz Qawwali.

Theater projects, three grants totaling $45,000

Glass Half Full Theatre, Austin, TX
Grant: $15,000
Project: Yamel Cucuy
The bilingual theater performance Yamel Cucuy is rooted in magical realism and the cultural fear that lies just below the surface of borderland society. Set to a score of indigenous percussion and guitar, the production features a blend of shadow puppetry with three-dimensional rod and wearable puppets alongside human actors. The performance tells the story of thirteen-year-old Yamel, an undocumented immigrant in hiding. This coming-of-age story features folkloric characters that haunt and guide her through her journey. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for Glass Half Full Theatre.

National Blues Museum, St. Louis, MO
Grant: $15,000
Project: Queens of the Blues
The National Blues Museum’s Queens of the Blues puppet show is a heartwarming narrative production for elementary school students and families. Created in collaboration with Kansas City’s StoneLion Puppet Theatre and St. Louis composer Syna So Pro, Queens of the Blues features an emotional narrative exploring mental health, women’s creative contributions, and the power of art. The production will be accompanied by educational workshops in puppet-building and will introduce young audiences to different tools for healthy self-reflection through puppetry, storytelling, and blues music. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for the National Blues Museum, which was awarded a US Regional Arts Resilience Fund Grant by M-AAA in 2020.

TheatreSquared, Fayetteville, AR
Grant: $15,000
Project: 2023 Arkansas New Play Festival
TheatreSquared (T2)’s 2023 Arkansas New Play Festival (ANPF) is the state’s only dedicated professional laboratory for the development of new plays. Through it, T2 seeks to give voice to emerging playwrights whose timely and relevant stories resonate with the shifting demographics of Arkansas and mid-America. T2’s fifteenth ANPF will include four staged readings and a workshop production featuring thirty mid-America-based theatre artists. The Festival will be presented over two weekends—in Fayetteville at T2’s new, permanent home, and in Bentonville at The Momentary. In addition to work by professional playwrights, T2 will showcase ten-minute plays by high school students and devised work by LatinX Theatre Project. This is the third Artistic Innovations grant for TheatreSquared.

Visual Art projects, six grants totaling $74,218

Art League Houston, Houston, TX
Grant: $15,000
Art League Houston (ALH) is excited to present PLATFORM, a new, ongoing opportunity for artists to exhibit new works of temporary public art on a billboard-like platform on the exterior of the ALH building. The program commissions new work through a mix of curated selection and proposals selected from an open call application. The program encourages applicants to grapple with the challenges of presenting artwork in the public realm, in an outdoor environment, and at a large scale. Proposed projects should consider the site as a transitional space, the durability of artwork materials, as well as the diverse audiences who visit ALH on a regular basis. Additionally, selected projects should respond to issues/topics relevant to the local community and harness the power of originality, innovation, and accessibility. Each project will be premiered at a public unveiling event and will host a talk by the exhibiting artist. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for Art League Houston, a past participant in M-AAA’s Engage program in Houston.

Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, MO
Grant: $15,000
Project: Collective Impact
Facilitated by two St. Louis organizations, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) and Creative Reaction Lab (CRXLAB), this project will use an Equity-Centered Community Design™ model to find creative artistic interventions to challenges faced in the neighborhoods around CRXLAB and the museum—Covenant Blu/Grand Center, Vandeventer, and The Ville. A cohort of ten local artists and community experts will identify needs and topics of interest to the community and determine a topic for a public art project. Through a public request for proposals, a St. Louis-based artist or collective will be selected to receive $10,000 to work with local residents on a public art project (sculpture/installation, mural, social sculpture/participatory work, etc.) that addresses community needs. Results from the project will be shared in an exhibition and public program at CAM. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

LUX Center for the Arts, Lincoln, NE
Grant: $6,000
Project: Nine Nebraska Artists: Woodcut Print Mural Project
This public art project, presented in partnership by LUX Center for the Arts and Constellation Studios, is designed to highlight printmaking as an art form as well as each artist’s vision. Nine Nebraska artists were invited to design and carve a 24-by-36-inch woodblock to be printed at Constellation Studios to make nine composite murals. LUX Center staff will wheat paste the prints in nine neighborhoods around Lincoln, Nebraska. Two unveiling receptions in July and August, and one final event in August, will feature opportunities for the community to participate in making large-scale prints with a steamroller. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for LUX Center for the Arts.

Robert M. Merryman Performing Arts Center, Kearney, NE
Grant: $11,218
Project: Tumbleweed Symphony
The Merryman Performing Arts Center will commission Omaha-based artist Leslie Bruning to create a large, permanent, brass mobile called Tumbleweed Symphony for the entrance of the Center’s soaring lobby. The artist will draw inspiration from the tumbleweeds that roll across western and central Nebraska to create the suspended kinetic work of art. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for the Merryman Performing Arts Center, a recipient of several Regional Touring Program grants from M-AAA.

Erika Nelson, Lucas, KS
Grant: $12,000
Project: Inappropriation along the American Road 
In this project focused on tourist attraction sites with culturally outdated stereotypes, artists will present their work in a popup exhibition at one of Kansas’s iconic roadside attractions, TeePee Junction. The artists will react to and reinterpret culturally inappropriate stereotypes—Indigenous peoples and tourist teepees, Mexican American culture depicted by sombrero-topped mascots, and rural Ozark stereotypes of poor, drunken hillbillies—commonly found along tourist routes. Exhibition images and texts will be distributed at attractions throughout Kansas, including TeePee Junction in Lawrence, La Salsa Man in Dodge City, and the Roadside Sideshow Expo in Lucas, providing tourists with a direct response on-site to monuments that commercialize nostalgia and ignore cultural appropriation. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for Erika Nelson, a participant of M-AAA’s Interchange program and creator of M-AAA Women’s Suffrage Centennial commissioned mural in Norton, Kansas.

The Union for Contemporary Art, Omaha, NE
Grant: $15,000
Project: Artist-in-Studio Residency Program
The inaugural Artist-In-Studio (A-I-S) Residency at the Union for Contemporary Art will host four regional artists who use their practice for social change for two-to-four week residencies at the Union’s Co-Op Studios. For the inaugural A-I-S Residency season running from Fall 2022 to Spring 2023, the four selected artists are Alex Ponca Stock (OK), Nathaniel Ruleaux (NE), Nathan Murray (NE, a past participant in M-AAA’s Interchange program), and Kaneem Smith (TX). These artists will have dedicated time and space to create new work, experiment with state-of-the-art equipment, present their work to the Omaha community, and engage in outreach activities. This is the first Artistic Innovations grant for the Union for Contemporary Art which was awarded a US Regional Arts Resilience Fund Grant by M-AAA in 2020.


Image: Nine Nebraska Artists Wheat Paste Mural, Lux Center for the Arts, Lincoln, NE