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M-AAA Completes Ten Years of Capacity Building in Houston

By Margaret A. Keough

A illustrative title for Connections Multiply against a lavender background

Mid-America Arts Alliance Publishes “Connections Multiply”

A Digital Report Chronicles Impact of Engage Program

To mark ten years of capacity building with small to mid-size arts and culture organizations in Houston, Texas, Mid-America Arts Alliance has launched a digital report about the transformational work that Engage Houston brought to the community. “Connections Multiply” at engagehoustonsummaryreport.org, combines stories with data in illustrating the impact the program had on boosting the health and sustainability of arts and cultural organizations.

Beginning in 2011, Engage Houston, a program of Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA), offered focused organizational development specifically for small to midsize organizations in greater Houston. This was just the beginning of a decade-long journey for small to midsize organizations.

Todd Stein, President and CEO, of Mid-America Arts Alliance, said, “The creation of Engage and deep financial investment in the arts and cultural ecosystem of Houston by the Houston Endowment has been phenomenal. Through Engage, M-AAA created something that has existed nowhere else in the United States: a decade of commitment to nurture the arts and culture infrastructure within a single community.” The resulting connections were transformational with the overall goal of nurturing a strong arts ecosystem in Houston.

Engage Houston was offered to organizations in the counties of Harris, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller, and provided focused training through a combination of peer learning, coach consultations and workshops. The Engage program was designed to strengthen participants’ organizational effectiveness and sustainability, amplifying an arts ecosystem that supports the wider community.

“Connections Multiply” shares stories of impact and key learnings, as well as culminates a decade of building stronger nonprofit organizations. Among its findings, the comprehensive report offers that after 91% of organizations completed the Engage program:

  • 100% of the program objectives were met for peer learning cohort sessions in Engage II and III.
  • 81% of program interviewees said the individual coach consultations were the most valued and successful part of the program.
  • 80% of respondents were positive and more confident in their financial strength overall after Engage I.
  • During Engage II, 90% of the twenty-one community engagement grant recipients reported they had increased their understanding of targeted audiences, 81% established new partnerships, and 71% increased attendance from these audiences.

At its core, Engage Houston was a program that gave organizations both individual support and a peer network. With seventy organizations, over ten years and three iterations of the program in Houston, Engage participants expanded their understanding of nonprofit leadership and management in order to adapt to change, respond to challenges, and sustainably provide their programs to the community.

According to Leanne Newton, formerly with the Altharetta Yeargin Art Museum in Houston, “the impact of M-AAA cannot be overstated!” She added, “M-AAA’s Engage program gave us a framework and plan that didn’t exist before. M-AAA helped us learn what board structure was supposed to be, gave us the courage to think bigger, and to be bold in how we wanted AYAM to be viewed. The idea sharing with other small art entities in Houston was invaluable and helped us feel even more a part of the Houston Art community.”

Engage also completed iterations of the program with cohorts in Kansas City (2018–20) and in Northwest Arkansas (2020–22), where it was called ARt Connect. These versions allowed for similar organizations to learn together with overarching goals of strengthening sustainability.

Due to the groundbreaking success and collaboration among and with Engage Houston participants, M-AAA is optimistic about the future of capacity-building programs in an ever-evolving environment. With more than a twenty-year history of delivering innovative professional development services, it will continue providing programs that create mission-centric, inclusive, evolving, and equitable institutions.