The regional arts organizations (RAOs) are private, nonprofit entities created by state arts leaders in the mid-1970s to facilitate the exchange of artists across state borders. The National Endowment for the Arts encouraged the development of RAOs to cultivate the touring of artists to sparsely populated and underserved areas of the country.

Over time, RAOs have evolved to play a major role in strengthening the effectiveness and efficiency of the U.S. arts infrastructure. They draw on their own ability to cultivate public and private resources; work collaboratively across state, national, and international borders; and deliver programming across all arts disciplines.

RAOs play a leading role with federal agencies, funders, and those working at the state and community level to design, implement, and channel resources into programs and services that meet the needs of the public they serve. While they operate independently, RAOs collaborate with each other, their member states, and constituency groups in a national network to assist the National Endowment for the Arts and other funders in delivering programs.

Goals and Objectives

The federal investment in this area is predicated on each RAO executing an inclusive and responsive planning process in response to constituent needs. Partnership Agreement funding enables the RAOs to address objectives among those identified at the regional level as well as by the National Endowment for the Arts, which may include:

  1. Engagement: Increase opportunities for people from all backgrounds to encounter different artists, art forms, and artistic and cultural traditions. Activities may include, but are not limited to::

    • Exhibitions, performances, concerts, and readings
    • Film screenings
    • Radio and television broadcasts, video games, mobile apps, live streaming audio- and video-on demand, podcasts, digital audio files, virtual reality, and other digital applications
    • Touring and outreach activities
    • Arts festivals
    • Artist residencies in non-school settings (when the primary purpose is public engagement)
    • Creation, development, or restaging of art works
    • Public programs that spotlight diverse artistic and cultural heritage
    • Publication, production, and promotion of digital, audio, or print publications, catalogues, websites, and searchable databases
    • Projects that address and reduce barriers to the arts for people with disabilities and that celebrate the work of disabled artists
    • Projects that extend the arts to underserved populations, including those whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, economics, race/ethnicity, or disability
      • For the purposes of these guidelines, an underserved community is one in which individuals lack access to arts programs due to geography, economics, ethnicity, or disability. Within this broad definition, RAOs are asked to specify their own underserved constituencies.
    • Projects that connect artists and designers with communities
    • Archiving, preservation, and documentation projects, including ethnographic fieldwork and provenance research
    • The NEA Regional Touring Program, which is designed to give all Americans access to excellence in the performing, literary, media, and visual arts. In light of the COVID-19 Pandemic, virtual engagements are permissible and encouraged. Support is available for regional programs that:
      • Increase access in underserved communities.
      • Increase benefit through complementary educational activities and community partnerships.
      • Are based on planning with touring artists and community groups.
      • Ensure high quality
      • Encourage diversity
      • Predominantly feature the presentation of out-of-state artists and organizations
        • Some considerations are allowed for projects that involve multi-state tours developed by presenter consortia; touring of artists across vast distances within state boundaries; in-state touring of culturally-specific programs to new venues and new audiences; or that take place in states that have a large concentration of artists/organizations, such as California and New York.
        • To ease the administrative burden on RAOs during the pandemic, it is currently required that a majority of the Regional Touring funds will support the presentation of artists from out of state.
      • Assist and strengthen a network of arts-presenting organizations in rural and underserved communities
      • Encourage programming that is made accessible to and engages with individuals and artists of all abilities
      • Support for presenting, touring, outreach, and other activities, including booking conferences and professional development, designed to enhance public engagement with the arts.

        NOTE: No more than 20 percent of the NEA Regional Touring funds may be used to support an RAO's administrative costs.

    • Folk Arts Partnership: Support for stable, outreach-driven programs that are responsive to a region’s diverse folk & traditional arts heritage, and that can strengthen regional support of the folk & traditional arts. RAOs are encouraged to support professional positions in the folk & traditional arts. Programs also may include, but are not limited to, fieldwork to identify and document underserved folk & traditional artists; apprenticeships, mentorships, or folk arts in education programs; and statewide activities that increase public awareness of living cultural heritage.

      ATTENTION: Previously, both SAAs and nonprofit organizations working in cooperation with their SAA were eligible for Folk Arts Partnership funding on an optional and competitive basis. Beginning in FY 2021, all SAAs received support for these types of activities as part of their Partnership Agreement. For more information about Folk Arts Partnership, visit Additional Information on Folk & Traditional Arts.

  2. Learning: Provide opportunities for people throughout the country to participate in arts education and to increase their knowledge and skills in the arts at all stages of life. Activities may include, but are not limited to:

    • Standards-based arts education activities for pre-K-12 students through long-term, in-depth projects

    • Professional development to improve arts instruction by equipping artists, school superintendents, principals, teachers, and other education providers with the skills and confidence to effectively engage students in high-quality arts learning
    • Assessments and evaluations of arts learning
    • Lifelong learning activities for youth, adults, and intergenerational groups
    • Online courses and training
    • Lectures and symposia
    • Production, publication, and distribution of teachers’/ facilitators' guides
    • Innovative practices in arts learning for Americans of all ages
    • Artist residencies (when the primary purpose is educational)
    • Informal education programs, workshops, and demonstrations
    • Arts learning programs for older adults in community settings, residential settings, and healthcare/long-term care settings
    • Arts learning programs for youth in juvenile justice settings
    • Arts learning programs and approaches that promote full access and participation in the arts for youth and adults with disabilities.
  3. International Activities: Provide opportunities for the international exchange of artists and arts and cultural traditions. Activities may include, but are not limited to:

    • Activities promoting the diversity of U.S. artists and artworks for audiences abroad
    • Activities providing U.S. audiences and artists with opportunities to experience international artistry in the U.S.
    • Residency exchange programs with artists and artist communities in other countries. 
  4. Health & Well-Being: Support arts projects with a focus on advancing the health and well-being of individuals. Activities may include, but are not limited to:

    • Creative arts therapies and/or arts-in-health strategies that seek to assist with healthy aging and healthy childhood and youth development or with rehabilitation or recovery services, or that address currently and/or formerly incarcerated populations.
  5. Strengthening Communities: Embed the arts in system-wide initiatives that strengthen or heal communities. Activities may include, but are not limited to:

    • Projects in which arts organizations collaborate with cross-sector partners on systems-level community change
    • Projects that use the arts to protect and revitalize natural, cultural, and economic resources within communities, including cultural and community planning, historic and community preservation projects, and charrettes and design-related activities
    • Creative placemaking projects that use the arts, design, and cultural strategies to achieve positive economic, physical, and social outcomes for communities
    • Projects that use data to inform community members about the state of local arts participation or arts education, to identify and address inequitable areas of service, and/or to inform decision-making for a community
    • Trauma response and recovery efforts within communities.
  6. Capacity-Building: Support professional development and technical assistance efforts to develop the capacity of artists, arts professionals, and organizations. Activities may include, but are not limited to:

    • Services to the field, including workshops, conferences, convenings, publications, professional leadership development, technical assistance, or online resources
    • Development of peer-to-peer networks of experienced and emerging arts leaders
    • Training and technical assistance workshops in arts management, professional development and career transitions, grant writing, and board development
    • Projects that include planning, capacity building, infrastructure, and training that supports an organization’s capacity to respond to current events
    • Apprenticeships/mentorships in the arts or arts professions and professional artist training programs (excluding activities in the K-12 education settings but including young artist training programs)
    • Artist residencies (when the primary purpose is to support artist’s development).
    • Emergency preparedness planning for arts organizations and the building of their protective capabilities
  7. Research: Support projects that produce research, statistics, and general information about the arts for the benefit of the arts sector and beyond. Activities may include, but are not limited to:

    • Support for research projects and programs.
    • Support for arts research infrastructure and capacity building. 
  8. Technology: Invest in the capacity of arts organizations to support tech-centered creative practices and to serve a broader public through digital or emergent technology. Activities may include, but are not limited to:

    • Support for tech-centered creative practices and artist-driven explorations of digital or emergent technology across all artistic disciplines.
    • Arts organizations’ capacity building to deliver tech-centered, digital, and hybrid arts and cultural programs to audiences and learners.
    • Professional development in tech-centered creative practices.
    • Field-building initiatives that develop networks across artistic disciplines and relevant entities for investing in tech-centered creative practices and artist-driven use of digital or emergent technology.
    • Sharing of information among peer networks—and to raise awareness about—creative solutions and best practices for using digital technology, including accessibility requirements for websites, virtual programs, and other tech-centered activities.

National Endowment for the Arts, Regional, and State Partnership

The National Endowment for the Arts, the Regional Arts Organizations, and the State Arts Agencies comprise a national network of arts funders, cultural program and service providers, and leaders in the arts and culture sector. We believe that each participating entity benefits from partnership in the network. We invest in the network through State and Regional Partnership Agreement grants in order to: 

  • Strengthen the cultural infrastructure of the United States,
  • Facilitate the creation and presentation of artistic works,
  • Provide the public with lifelong learning opportunities in the arts,
  • Enhance public engagement with, and access to, the arts,
  • Foster greater cultural understanding, and
  • Contribute to the enrichment of lives and communities throughout the nation.

We acknowledge that SAAs may choose to participate in the work of a regional arts organization of which it is not a member. SAAs may choose to shift membership from one regional arts organization to another, or may choose to withhold membership in an RAO. While recognizing that the ecology of the network benefits from change, we also believe that the network benefits from stability. To this end, shifts in state membership in RAOs must be preceded by at least one full year of planning by all of the agencies involved, including the National Endowment for the Arts.