A local arts agency (LAA) is a nonprofit organization or a local government agency that presents programming to the public, provides services to artists and arts organizations, manages cultural facilities, awards grants, and/or participates in community cultural planning.
Thinking of starting a local arts agency? The first and most important question is “Why?” Is there a community need for an LAA? If the answer is a resounding yes, then here are a few tips of starting an LAA for your community:
- Get the Big Idea
- Determine what your community wants out of the LAA and how can the LAA enhance their needs and boost the current programs and services offered. You could do this via a survey on a free, web-based survey provider or by in-person interviews with attendees at arts-related events in your community.
- Determine if the local arts agency will be a private entity or public body embedded in the local government. Individuals cannot establish a public local arts agency alone, however, individuals and concerned groups do have cultural votes and can approach the local government (mayors, county commissioners, city council members, and other representatives) about starting a public LAA.
- If a private LAA works best for your community, determine what business model is right for you. Traditionally, private local arts agencies are established as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations with a governing board of directors. However, there are a myriad of business models that may work for a community.
- Do Your Homework
- Familiarize yourself with legal requirements to start a new organization.
- Determine the cultural political climate and how the arts are supported by community leaders.
- Pinpoint monies that are used or could be used.
- Conduct a census of arts organizations and artists who live or work in the community.
- Look for people who support the arts and who are sympathetic to the significance of communitywide cultural awareness and involvement.
- Attend communitywide meetings. Listen to what is being said and by whom about the arts and the community.
- Find the community’s priorities and its interest in the arts and cultural life of the community.
- Contact the staff at Americans for the Arts, the national organization for local arts agencies.
- Gather Forces
- Educate local officials and heighten the public awareness to the cultural needs, benefits, and spectrum of possibilities.
- Increase the level of the public’s involvement with every aspect of existing or potentially existing activities/programs.
- Acknowledge those that have helped your efforts and have aided the cultural community in the past.
- Lobby and work toward the development and passing of a city ordinance or the establishment of an official mechanism/office for public cultural support.
From the Monograph Local Arts Agencies 2012.
Contact the Local Arts Agency Services staff at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on starting a local arts agency.
United Arts Funds (UAFs) are local arts agencies whose main function is to raise money from local individuals, businesses, and foundations to regrant to local arts institutions and provide support to the cultural community. UAFs seek to raise money to provide ongoing support to arts groups by consolidating cultural fundraising efforts in one organization, and use their knowledge of the cultural community to disperse the funds accordingly. Over the past 65 years, more than 100 communities across the country–both large and small–have established UA
Contact the Private Sector Initiatives team for more resources and information on starting a United Arts Fund, including a start-up guide, feasibility study, and on-going consultation and support.
Start an Arts & Business Council or Business Committee for the Arts
Business Committees for the Arts (BCA) and Arts & Business Councils (A&BC) are organizations that encourage businesses in their operating areas to develop alliances with the arts. Americans for the Arts staff provides support for the network of independent A&BCs and BCAs around the country. While the two types of organizations are very similar and often run the same types of programs, historically BCAs work directly with the business community to foster partnerships, while A&BCs provide training to arts groups to empower them to form the partnerships with businesses. Do you see great potential for businesses in your community to partner with local arts organizations?
Start a Business Volunteers for the Arts® or Employee Engagement Program
Americans for the Arts recognizes that engaging business professionals and employees through the arts is key to fostering a desirable work environment, increasing efficiency and morale, and building the competitive advantage of a business. Employees can be engaged through the arts in a number of ways, and Americans for the Arts serves as a resource, guide, and hub for all the information you need to start, sustain, or transform a successful arts-based volunteer or employee engagement program.
Starting and Managing an Arts Education Program
Created in 2003, our archival YouthARTS Toolkit remains seminal in at-risk youth development through the arts. It covers everything from fundraising, budgeting, program design, and partnerships. You can also check out or Arts Education Navigator e-book, Getting Started, which offers a beginner’s guide to arts education advocacy.
Contact our Arts Education Program Manager to learn more about where to get started.
Start a Social Change/Civic Engagement Initiative
Animating Democracy offers consultation and services to help local and regional funders design and implement art-based civic engagement funding and technical assistance initiatives that are tailored to serve cultural interests in their geographic areas.
You can integrate this program, Local Synergy, into a private or community foundation or a a local arts agency. Contact the Animating Democracy Program Coordinator for more information about an Animating Democracy Local Synergy Initiative.
Start a Local or Regional Network
The strength of the Americans for the Arts national network resides in cultivating strong, sustainable groups of professionals in communities like yours. Staff at Americans for the Arts will walk you through the steps to start a local or regional network—for emerging leaders, public art, or arts education—that fosters professional growth, higher achievement, and stronger advocacy. Each local network operates differently to reflect the unique nuances of a community or region. They connect nationally to each other through the Emerging Leader Network, the Public Art Network, and the Arts Education Network of Americans for the Arts.
- To start an Arts Education Network, contact the Arts Education Program Manager
- To start a Public Art Network, contact the Public Art Program Manager
- To start an Emerging Leaders Network for young arts professionals, check out Emerging Leaders Tools & Resources or contact the Local Arts Advancement Programs Manager.
Start or Advance a Cultural District
Americans for the Arts offers a variety of conulting services for cultural districts that include planning and developing your cultural district, developing marketing plans for a successful cultural district, as well as workshops and trainings for cultural districts. For more information, please contact email@example.com or visit our Cultural Districts topic page for resources.
In addition to professional consulting, Americans for the Arts offers free technical assistance to members on a case-by-case basis. Please contact the following staff members, depending on your needs:
Arts Education questions and assistance – firstname.lastname@example.org
Research & Report questions and services – email@example.com
- Membership assistance – firstname.lastname@example.org
Private Sector questions and services – email@example.com
Local Arts Agencies assistance – firstname.lastname@example.org
Information on Cultural Districts - email@example.com
Animating Democracy (Civic Engagement & Social Change work) - firstname.lastname@example.org
Public Art assistance - email@example.com
Young Professionals/Emerging Leaders assistance – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Questions about our Annual Convention - email@example.com