NEA Arts Magazine

Comrades in Arts

Delivering Great Art to Local Communities


Jessica Daley

Jessica Daley is a member of Koresh Dance Company, a Philadelphia-based troupe that has seen its bookings triple since joining the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts’ PennPAT roster of touring artists. Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki.

The NEA early on realized that the only way to reach its ambitious goal of bringing great art to all Americans was to work in partnership with the states. In fact, at one of its earliest meetings, the National Council on the Arts declared its "belief in state responsibility for the arts." Today the NEA works hand-in-hand with the 56 state, territorial, and jurisdictional arts agencies (SAAs) and six regional arts organizations (RAOs) to ensure that the arts thrive -- and are accessible to all citizens -- nationwide.

Forty percent of the NEA's budget is allocated to these critical alliances. For fiscal year (FY) 2008, that represented a federal investment of $47.8 million dollars toward state and regional arts budgets. The SAAs also receive funding from their state governments; in 2008 states invested more than $359.6 million in the arts. The NEA requires each SAA and RAO to present a detailed strategic plan, vetted through a panel process, that demonstrates how each organization will use its combined federal and state funds to meet the needs of its constituents. This process gives the organizations credibility as they seek additional program funds from state government.

The state arts agencies direct a number of programs, including creative economy, public policy, and arts education initiatives, and give grant support to local arts agencies, local arts organizations, and state folk arts infrastructure programs. The SAAs also support NEA's goals for Challenge America -- to provide arts access to underserved communities -- and American Masterpieces -- to make the accomplishments of the nation’s artists better known to all citizens.

The regional arts organizations broaden the reach of the arts across state lines and into rural areas through high quality touring programs. Their activities include developing and managing touring visual arts exhibitions; convening performing arts and educational conferences; and funding regional literature, visual arts, and performing arts projects as part of the NEA's Regional Arts Touring Program. The RAOs also facilitate international collaborations between the U.S. and countries such as Japan and Mexico.

In addition, the RAOs work with the Arts Endowment to administer NEA national initiatives. For example, Arts Midwest manages Shakespeare in American Communities, The Big Read, NEA Jazz Masters Live, and also coordinated the Operation Homecoming film. Arts Midwest Executive Director David Fraher said, "In addition to assisting the NEA to achieve its goals, which is good for the entire arts community, the national initiatives allow Arts Midwest to develop new expertise and cultivate new arts partners within and beyond our nine states, which ultimately benefits our region as well."

The following pages profile just a few of the transformative arts projects supported through these important partnerships. To find out more about your state and regional arts agencies go to RAO_list. html.