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2021: Our Year In Review

As I reflect on the last year, I’m struck by the power of creativity. In difficult times, creativity offers hope, sparks innovation, and connects people. Arts Midwest’s primary goal in 2021 was supporting creative organizations as they do essential work across our region and beyond.

Photos courtesy Connie Vandermay, Pangea Theatre, Wexner Center for the Arts, Honeywell Foundation, Miriam Alarcón Ávila

In 2021, we provided grants to 524 organizations, brought people together in conversation, and connected audiences with musicians and other artists. We’re excited by the creativity and innovation of our partners, grantees, and constituents.

Here are a few highlights:

A performer in a gold glittering outfit and mask raises their hand

Flexible Support for Organizations

We launched the Grow Invest Gather (GIG) Fund, which offers flexible grants to help arts and culture organizations hire touring artists and build community.

  • We’re working with a group of 14 artistic advisors and our state arts agency partners to review applications. Our advisors also help guide Arts Midwest’s grantmaking processes.
  • With the aid of these advisors, we made $400,000 in grants to 160 Midwestern organizations.
  • Recently-funded projects include an on-site residency with skilled jewelry maker Rosemarie Basile at Passion Works Studio in Athens, Ohio, and performances by a global peace ambassador from the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Two older women touch arms at an outdoor theater performance

Community Creativity Conversations

We’ve been inspired by conversations with members of the Community Creativity Cohort. This group of 40 organizations is making art central to their community building efforts.

  • One of these organizations, Minnesota-based Pangea World Theatre shared their experience partnering with Longfellow Rising to fight gentrification and displacement in South Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd.
  • They’re tackling big questions like: How do we rebuild this area in an equitable and just way? What has the power to heal our community and bring people together?
  • In response, they’re creating interactive public art installations that invite people to imagine what the community can look like as the neighborhood rebuilds.
Man holds tablet with the novel Into the Beautiful North up to the camera

Uniting Through Reading

The Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, located in Iowa City, received their first National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read grant this year. They found new connections as they brought members of their community together in conversation around the novel Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea. The journey undertaken by Nayeli, the book’s protagonist, as she travels from Mexico to Illinois, mirrors that of many immigrants currently living in Iowa City.

  • To draw those connections, the Center brought together meatpacking workers to share their experiences with each other and the broader community.
  • Activities also focused on stories and photographs by Miriam Alarcón Ávila that documented what it is like to live as an immigrant in Iowa.
  • And the community came together for a virtual artist talk by Urrea, during which he shared his dream of getting more people to read Mexican stories.

Women hold up guitars in front of a crowd of students

Exploring Midwestern Identities

Since 2019, we’ve been working with Sisseton, South Dakota; Perry, Iowa; and Wabash, Indiana to create artist residencies that explore the idea of what it means to be a Midwesterner.

  • From the start, our work brought people together to learn from one another using empathy, creativity, and listening.
  • We have been moved by stories that highlight how these communities are using creativity to become more welcoming places, how they are using storytelling to come back together after a year apart, and how they are building new connections across rural spaces.
Young student in yellow sweatshirt plays the kantele

Sharing Music, an Ocean Apart

After a yearlong pandemic delay, we conducted a week-long artist residency with Finnish musicians in New York Mills, Minnesota.

  • In March 2021, the four musicians of Kardemimmit shared their music with students and other community members, and played a live concert.
  • They gave lessons on the kantele—the national instrument of Finland—and led sing-a-longs.
  • Dr. Amy Tervola Hultberg, dean of the nearby Salolampi Finnish Language Village, taught high school students how to make pulla, traditional Finnish cardamom bread.
  • Yet with all these activities, the musicians and community members never met in person. Activities with Kardemimmit were all conducted virtually—even the concert, which Kardemimmit live-streamed at 2 a.m. in Finland in order to perform at 7 p.m. in Minnesota.
These stories—and the people, ideas, and passion behind them—give me hope. The power of creativity is strong, and it’s at the very heart of connected and welcoming communities across the Midwest. Thank you for being part of our family, and thank you for all you’ve done to support creativity this year. We’re looking forward to working together with you as we continue to build a more vibrant and equitable future.


Torrie Allen
President & CEO, Arts Midwest


Photo Credits, from top to bottom:

Jaamil Olawale Kosoko performs. Photo by Katie Spengler Gentry, courtesy Wexner Center for the Arts
Pangea World Theatre’s performance of The Missouri River Water Walk. Photo by Bruce Silcox
Jason Paulios at the Iowa City Public Library. Photo by Miriam Alarcón Ávila
Jarochicanos after a performance in Wabash, IN. Photo courtesy of Honeywell Foundation
A student examines a kantele during a workshop at her school. Photo by Connie Vandermay