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Commentary: The Mid-America Arts Alliance Serves Our Region Well

Nancy Kranzberg

Most of us are familiar with MAC, the Missouri Arts Council, RAC, the Regional Arts Commission and A&E, the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis. MAC, is of course, our state arts agency, RAC is the regional agency funded by a portion of the hotel and motel sales tax, and A&E is our privately funded arts agency. Very few folks are familiar with M-AAA, our six states regional arts alliance.

MAAA is the Mid-America Arts Alliance which is headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri and is one of six not-for-profit regional arts organizations funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Founded in 1972, MAAA creates and manages regional, national, and international programs including traveling exhibitions, performing arts, touring, and professional and community development. The Alliance serves the state arts councils of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

Mary Kennedy, the director of M-AAA says, "Mid-America Arts Alliance brings more art to more people. We do this primarily through partnerships with national, state and local organizations. We are delighted to work with a wide variety of St. Louis organizations and artists such as Dance St. Louis, the Sheldon Art Galleries, the St. Louis African Chorus and Circus Flora, just to name a few. We also help St. Louis artists and arts organizations reach regional and national audiences through our various touring performance and traveling exhibition programs. As Saint Louis' regional arts organization, we are proud to count St. Louis among our preeminent regional cities.”

Countless stories can be told about arts experiences in the communities that M-AAA serves with performances, exhibitions, seminars, workshops, master classes, school tours, radio broadcasts, artist residencies, community projects, and lectures. For the folks in these smaller towns, the arts truly are a source of lifelong learning and renewal.

Two of my favorite and most popular programs are "Exhibits U.S.A" and "NEH on the Road."  “Exhibits U.S.A.” boasts more than twenty years of experience in developing arts and humanities exhibitions .The staff produces a roster of shows that represent a variety of themes and time periods, nurturing the understanding of diverse art forms, and encouraging the expanding depth and breadth of cultural life in local communities. "NEH on the Road" is a partnership between M-AAA and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The program extends public access to the highest quality small traveling humanities exhibitions, with a focus on scholarship, educational programming and visitor impact.

Stacey Morse, director of Chesterfield Arts, says that showing "Exhibits U.S.A's” program, "The Wartime Escape," about how the creators of the “Curious George” books fled from Nazi-occupied France to America and created one of our favorite storybook characters, introduced new audiences to Chesterfield Arts. Morse said that it was Chesterfield Arts first collaboration with M-AAA and that there was record attendance for the duration of the exhibition.

One of "NEH's" new programs is entitled "House and Home" and was organized by the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Featuring a wide array of photographs, domestic objects, toys, architectural models, interactive components, and video resources, it explores and challenges our notions of what it means to be "at home" in America.

Another unusual and powerful program is "The Community Mural Project." The first project took place in Joplin, Missouri shortly after the devastating tornado in which Dave Lowenstein helped the people create a brightly painted mural depicting Joplin both before and after the tornado and the latest project took place in Waco, Texas. Waco is situated along the Brazos River, halfway between Dallas and Austin. "Waco's commitment to investing in the arts and cultural capital and their desire to make Waco an even more livable community  through the arts, will enable the Mural Project to support cultural understanding and celebrate the rich history of Waco," says M-AAA's director Mary Kennedy.

These few programs mentioned are just the tip of the iceberg of the multitude of creative artistic offerings of M-AAA. St. Louisans, Missourians and our Midwestern neighbors are fortunate to be connected to this wonderful multi-faceted organization.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years on numerous arts related boards.