Anna Jurkovska/shutterstock
Anna Jurkovska/shutterstock

IP Funder Spotlights provide quick rundowns of the grantmakers that are on our radar, including a few key details on how they operate and what they’re up to right now. Today, we take a look at a steadfast regional regrantor, which is suddenly flush, thanks to MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett.

What this funder cares about 

Established in 1979, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation—which recently changed its name to simply Mid Atlantic Arts—promotes artists and arts organizations in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia and West Virginia (although sometimes, it steps outside of the region). MAA’s four goals, which it defined in consultation with over 1,400 artists and arts leaders, are embracing and promoting equity, diversity, inclusion and access; supporting and strengthening the arts sector; enlivening communities through partnerships with arts organizations; and building its own internal capacity.

Why you should care 

MAA has been a devoted supporter of the arts in a region that’s home to a quarter of the nation’s arts organizations. It also played a pivotal role in getting money out the door to artists in the early days of the pandemic, co-founding the Mid Atlantic Arts Regional Resilience Fund in June 2020. The foundation awarded $1.6 million in grants in 2020—a hefty sum for a regional regrantor of relatively limited means.

We believe that these are all sufficient reasons to care about MAA. But then, on June 15, 2021, MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett announced their latest round of grantmaking. Lo and behold, Mid Atlantic Arts was listed among the 286 recipient organizations. Soon after, MAA fired off a press release revealing the size of the gift—an astonishing 8 million new reasons to care.

Where the money comes from 

In 2020, MAA generated $4.1 million in revenues, 88% of which came from contributions and grants. A substantial portion of this funding comes from arts funders like the Howard Gilman Foundation and the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation, which gave $1.7 million for the Mid Atlantic Arts Regional Reliance Fund. Other supporters include the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, Google, and the Baltimore Community Foundation, plus individual donors. MAA has no endowment or other funding sources beyond what it raises to pay for its annual outlays. But that may change in light of Scott and Jewett’s gift.

Where the money goes 

An analysis of MAA’s 990 for the fiscal year ending June 2020 shows that roughly 81% of its $1.6 million in grantmaking flowed to 109 performing arts organizations, most of which were based in the mid-Atlantic region. The remaining funding was earmarked for artists fellowships (17%) and performing arts presenting and touring support (2%).

Again, this was before the foundation netted its $8 million gift. So the bigger question moving forward is where will the money go? We can safely predict that funding will continue to flow to regional organizations and artists. Anything beyond that, however, is pure speculation.

The funder has taken a cautious approach so far, as if its leaders are still trying to wrap their heads around all those extra zeros. “We will be developing an inclusive and responsive process—informed by our strategic plan, guiding principles, and the application of our emerging equity framework—to determine the best use of these funds for the benefit of our constituents and organization,” read its press release announcing the gift. MAA also hopes to “extend the impact of this gift beyond our organization to the region and the people we serve, while centering diversity, equity, inclusion and access.”

Open door or barbed wire? 

No velvet ropes here. MAA makes it easy for grantseekers to explore its various funding opportunities. Its site clearly lays out information and deadlines for upcoming grants and provides a grants database whereby users can run a customized search based on grantee type (artist or organization), program, discipline, location and year. The site also includes monthly newsletters highlighting new grant opportunities from MAA and other funders, deadlines, and upcoming webinars.

In addition, the site includes MAA’s board of directors and staff, an up-to-date news section, a list of foundation and corporate funders, strategic partners, and notable individual donors. Lastly, it provides links to its 2020–2024 Strategic Plan, plus previous annual reports. We look forward to an equally transparent rendering of how MAA will use the Scott/Jewett gift to advance its strategic priorities.

Latest big moves 

First off, there’s the name change. MAA also recently launched Central Appalachia Living Traditions, a multi-year program designed to promote the understanding and recognition of folk arts and culture in Central Appalachia. The funder launched the program in June 2021 and will roll out subsequent phases through April 2024.

MAA will also be launching a one-time program with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts through the American Rescue Plan. Funding will support jobs in the arts sector, keep the doors open to arts organizations nationwide, and assist the field in its response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This program will launch in the fall of 2021.

One cool thing to know 

MAA sends New York City-based dance, music, and theater ensembles and solo performers to Bahrain and Monaco through USArtists International, which is a partnership with the NEA, Mellon, and others. In July, MAA announced over $528,000 in grant support to 49 recipients to represent the United States at 57 festivals around the globe through June 2022. It was the first time the partnership funded engagements in those two exotic locales.

What we hope it does next 

There’s a body of evidence suggesting that some people who win the lottery become less happy due to the stress that comes with the influx of an unfathomable amount of money. We admit this isn’t the best analogy to describe MAA’s situation. For starters, the foundation didn’t get lucky—it’s been doing impactful work for years, which is how it crossed Scott and Jewett’s radar. And honestly, we imagine their staff and grantees are pretty darn happy right now.

But the Scott and Jewett gift is five times what MAA granted in 2020. Leaders will need to make some big—and even difficult—decisions around where the money ends up.

Nonprofit Management 101 suggests MAA should use a portion of the windfall to set up an endowment. Not a bad idea, as it will establish a steady stream of income for the region and ease some of the fundraising pressure, allowing them to focus on their mission. Then again, considering the huge need among artists right now, they might also take a page from Scott and Jewett themselves, and “empty the safe,” shoveling out larger amounts to more groups ASAP, or even helping grantees set up endowments. Either way, MAA’s leaders have a quintessential good problem on their hands.