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Investing in Culture and Creativity in the Heartland

By Elizabeth Snell

a collage of photos and colored shapes

$2.4 million invested. 498 grants awarded. And 129 communities, large and small, rural and urban, reached and served in fiscal year 2023. 

Mid-America Arts Alliance, the regional arts organization that serves the heartland, invests millions each year in the arts, in creativity and directly to artists across our six-state region of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and beyond—all to help bring more art to more people. 

Welcome to M-AAA’s Impact Report

This year’s impact report started with a question that we posed to our board members this past June.

“What initially sparked your interest and what continues to fuel your investment of your time, talent, and treasure in Mid-America Arts Alliance?”

Those answers prompted us to rethink our annual report: who it serves, the stories it tells about the arts and artists in our region, and how it demonstrates the impact of Mid-America Arts Alliance on the communities we serve.

What do annual reports do anyway?

We started by thinking about the function of our annual report.

As an actual “report” on the past year’s accomplishments, annual reports can share an organization’s financials and key accomplishments. As a marketing tool, they can become a forum through which an organization can spotlight, relate, and discuss any number of issues and topics. And as a fundraising vehicle, annual reports could offer perspective on accomplished goals, delivered impact, and future direction. 

And so we rumbled with our board around these thoughts and on some ideas about how our report could reach further, higher, and do all of that a bit faster than a conventional, multi-page printed report or PDF.

How could our annual report do these things:

  • Give voice to grassroots artists and arts communities
  • Encourage donations and investments in regional art and artists
  • Expand awareness of and interest in M-AAA’s regional programs beyond our borders
  • Provide a sense of place, show the beauty and uniqueness of our region’s art and artists
  • Answer “What is M-AAA?”
  • Answer “Why M-AAA is?”
  • Show our region’s vitality and vibrancy

Introducing M-AAA’s FY23 Impact Report

Here it is. And we’d like to give you a little tour. 

Why is Mid-America Arts Alliance? It starts with the people we serve.

Summer Brooks working clay in her studio in Kansas City. Wanda Montemayor and the volunteers of the Uvalde Love Project placing tiles on a memorial mural in Uvalde, Texas. Steve Snell canoeing down and painting the Missouri River. Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster and Kalyn Fay Barnoski performing at our 50th anniversary in the Crossroads of Kansas City. Scenes of art-making, art-curating, and artistic support from AYAM and Fresh Arts in Houston, Texas. Megha Rao performing on stage at the Artists 360™ Full Circle Showcase in Bentonville, Arkansas. Dominick Farinacci and Jaymes Poling sharing, connecting, and healing through Modern Warrior Experience workshop in Lawrence, Kansas. M-AAA’s own Art McSweeney and Jessica Heikes refurbishing the traveling exhibition Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories before it headed out to Moorhead, Minnesota, on the last leg of its tour that will end at the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulpher, Oklahoma. 

That’s the first thing you see when you “open” our impact report: the people, places, the work, the stories, and the impact we honor and serve. 

Art connects us.

Certainly “art” is where we start at Mid-America Art Alliance. But we are truly an “alliance.” 

Art works beyond the boundaries of paint and performance, to join communities, to advocate for health, to educate, to bolster our creative economy, and to amplify voices, preserve history, and share culture. 

And you’ll see that in how we’ve shared our stories. At the top of the report, you’ll see our table of contents in bold, colorful boxes and images. Click on “Art & Community” or “Art & Place” or “Art & Entrepreneurship” to see how art works across sectors to elevate, amplify, and connect people across cultures, places, experiences, and time. 

What does Mid-America Arts Alliance do?

Mid-America was founded in 1972 as the first of now six Regional Arts Organizations. 

Since 1972, we have invested millions of dollars in artists and arts organizations and brought more art to millions of people through our regional and national programs. 

In this section and with the interactive impact map, you can get a quick glimpse of those programs and our investment across our six-state region of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. 

The stories we share from our region

In this impact report, we’ve highlighted 23 stories in our region from each state, from each program.

From Arkansas, we share the newly launched Catalyze program and its innovative, practice-based grants that are part of this professional development program for artists in central Arkansas. 

From Kansas, we share a performance of Creative Forces grant awardee, the Modern Warrior Experience, at the Lied Center in Lawrence, Kansas, a moving musical, visual, and spoken-word theatrical performance of veterans’  stories that promote healing and connection. Applications for Creative Forces Community Engagement Grants open on November 8. 

From Missouri, you can travel along with Steve Snell in his video and painting journey down the mighty Missouri River, supported by an Artistic Innovations grant, and learn about Ryan Tenney’s Sankara Seed Project, supported through M-AAA’s Interchange program. 

From Nebraska, we share the story of how art supported a community through quarantine through the Artistic Innovations-funded project from the Lux Center. Applications for Artistic Innovations grants—open to both artists and arts organizations—will open in January. 

From Oklahoma, we share an ExhibitsUSA traveling exhibition of Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories, the story of a thorny chapter in U.S. history when Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes to attend boarding schools. Away from Home was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, with funding for the extended tour provided by the Chickasaw Nation.

From Texas, we announce one of our newest collaborations with Arts Connect Houston, yet another key example of how the arts crossed sectors to provide more art for more people, in this case with students in the Houston Independent School District. 

Stories from the Artland

We love the vitality and vibrancy of this year’s impact report, and look forward to using this platform to spotlight even more stories from our region. 

And, of course, we’re already thinking about (and writing and filming) the stories and voices we’ll share next year. How does art mix with technology? How does art protect and preserve our climate? How does art support culture and history? 

Know a story from our region that needs to be told? Let us know using this form.  

Pitch us a story: If you know an artist or creative, a storyteller, an organization involved in the arts, or a region that is building their arts ecosystem that you’d like to pitch for a story, we’d love to hear about it and consider it for a future feature. 

Are you creative? M-AAA is also looking for writers, photographers, illustrators, and videographers in our region, who can help us elevate and amplify creativity in the heartland. If you’re interested in becoming part of our storyteller network, email communications@maaa.org with a short bio, your location, and a few work samples.