Home News & Events Quarterly Newsletter News & Events Fall 2015—Special Edition: Celebrating 30 years of Arts Midwest

Fall 2015—Special Edition: Celebrating 30 years of Arts Midwest

A letter from President & CEO, David Fraher

Dear friends, colleagues, and supporters,

For 30 years Arts Midwest has remained true to our mission by creating experiences for artists, children, families, and leaders across our nine-state region, the nation, and world. These experiences have included lively performances; exhibitions honoring our region’s artists; and educational programs for our youth.

While this work continues, Arts Midwest has also begun to lead national conversations around how we can ensure the arts are not just seen as a nicety, but rather are viewed as a recognized, valued, and expected part of everyday life.

We look forward to this next chapter, as well as our continued efforts to celebrate our 30th anniversary through sharing stories and recipes. Please enjoy these updates and have a lovely fall season.

David Fraher

30 years of NEA partnership

Fifty years ago, Congress established the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) with the intent to provide grants and programs that gave Americans new opportunities to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities.

Shortly after its creation, the NEA worked with state arts agencies to establish regional arts organizations so that the arts could cross state boundaries and reach underserved audiences on a regional scale.

Since those early years, Arts Midwest received critical support for programs such as Arts Midwest Touring Fund, Arts Midwest World Fest, touring exhibitions, and more from the NEA. In addition to this support, we’ve partnered with the NEA on their national initiatives including engaging communities in great literature, bringing Shakespeare to young audiences, and celebrating American Jazz legends.

Shakespeare in American Communities

We know what we are but know not what we may be.
— Hamlet, Act 4, scene 5

These words, as penned by William Shakespeare, offer sage advice about understanding ourselves, loving others, and taking charge. And while these sentiments could inspire audiences of any age, they are best shared with the most impressionable. That’s why for more than 12 years, we have worked with the NEA to bring Shakespeare to more than 2.1 million middle and high school students across the United States.

Dress Rehearsal of A Midsummer Nights Dream at the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, MN (photo by Amy Anderson).

The impact of this program is perhaps best understood in the context of a community like Nashville, whose local Shakespeare Festival is bringing King Lear to 50 area schools, reaching 3,000 students, subsidizing busing, offering free tickets, and programming a special four-day bilingual residency at a Hispanic community center—all while harnessing the power of creative expression to teach, connect, and reflect.

The Big Read

Sharing a good book can broaden our understanding of the world, our communities, and ourselves. Through grants to organizations across the country, The Big Read supports community-wide reading programs that celebrate and explore literature through author readings, panel discussions, book discussions, and film screenings.

Two USAF jet pilots from Beale Air Force Base (CA) participated in a Big Read of The Raven at 70,000 feet (photo courtesy of Yuba Sutter Regional Arts Council).

Since it began in 2006, The Big Read expanded from a pilot project supporting ten communities reading four titles, to a nation-wide program that has awarded to-date more than 1,200 grants, featured 37 titles, and served 4.6 million people at more than 55,000 events.

Touring NEA Jazz Masters

From 2004–2014, 55 NEA Jazz Masters connected to audiences across the country, sharing this original American art form through performances and educational activities. These engagements honored the NEA Jazz Masters’ work and style, offered insights into their contributions to jazz, and broadened audiences’ awareness of these great artists.

NEA Jazz Master Slide Hampton teaches students in Savannah, GA in 2006 (photo courtesy of the Savannah Jazz Festival).

Over its 10 year history, communities across all 50 states learned from some of America’s greatest jazz musicians. Arts Midwest’s partnership helped carry on the NEA Jazz Masters’ legendary music and inspire adults and youth alike.

30 years of collaboration with state arts agencies

David Fraher poses with colleagues from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs at the 2015 Arts Midwest Conference. From left: Jeff Garrett, John Bracey, David Fraher, Taylor Rupp, and Adam Wheater. Photo by Tiffany Rodgers.

I would be remiss if I didn’t speak to Arts Midwest’s integral partnership with the state arts agencies that compose our nine-state region: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Early in my career, I too was responsible for directing a state arts agency in Wyoming and I appreciate the significant contributions that these organizations make to our sector. Resilient, resourceful, passionate, and committed, these agencies—and the visionary individuals who lead them—are essential to ensuring equity, access, and quality in the arts across the Midwest.

Their investment in Arts Midwest is crucial, their guidance is critical, and their support is unwavering. In short, we could not do this work with them, nor would we want to.

30 years of creative expression

From a collaboration in 2000 with the Columbus Museum of Art and the Ohio Arts Council on Illusions of Eden (an exhibition of more than 100 paintings, photographs, and installations that juxtaposed Central-U.S. and Central European values, industries, landscapes, and cultural practices); to our recent national tour of Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison (a groundbreaking retrospective examination of an important and under-recognized Native American modernist), Arts Midwest believes the creative expression of our regional artists is strong and vital.

Somali Documentary Project

Along those lines, 10 years ago we began working with photographer Abdi Roble, at a time when he was documenting the Somali diaspora in Columbus, Ohio—recording the traditions of the first generation of Somali immigrants as they adjusted to new language and customs while trying to maintain the cultural practices of their homeland.

Roble’s photograph from the Somali Documentary Project: American-Style Wedding Series 1, Columbus, December 2003.

The resulting work, the Somali Documentary Project, addressed issues of immigration, education, religion, business, and marriage—capturing the community’s reality at that time. It served as an archive of the community before assimilation, created new understanding among its audiences, drew international attention to the current events in Somalia, and offered a glimpse into a delicate balance of tradition and history, survival, and the pursuit of the American dream.

With lead support from the McKnight Foundation, in 2006 Arts Midwest worked with Roble to document communities in Minneapolis and throughout the state. And while this support enabled Roble to capture the diaspora taking place throughout Minnesota, it also provided the opportunity for Roble to conduct photography workshops with East African students at the Twin Cities International School.

Roble’s photograph from the Somali Documentary Project: Ismahan Dualle, entertains her brother, Fuad, with her developing musical skills. Somali Jazz, Minneapolis, MN, Oct. 2006.

Arts Midwest also partnered with the school to send Roble and his team to the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya in 2005. Roble’s work in Kenya not only furthered the work of the Somali Documentary Project, but also helped create a professional development program for Minneapolis teachers educating East African students in hopes of better serving refugee families and children.

The work culminated in a year-long exhibition and corresponding catalogue that traveled to Lewiston, Maine; Fargo, ND; and back to Minneapolis. At the time each location was experiencing its own transitions with increasingly diverse populations and this project offered a much needed platform for community dialogue around culture, expression, and home.

After more than a decade of documentary work, the Somali Documentary Project has taken nearly 100,000 images documenting the Somali Diaspora globally, with 10,000 images from Minnesota alone. Arts Midwest’s role of connecting us to the Somali community in Minnesota was immeasurable…
— Abdi Roble, founder, Somali Documentary Project

Featured Recipe

This month’s recipe comes from Wisconsin Arts Board’s Executive Director, George Tzougros, who shares a cherished family treat, Spanakopita.

Spanakopita (Spinach Pie)

From the kitchen of Vicki Tzougros, mother of George Tzougros.

Spinach Pie by Suzette, www.suzette.nu, CC BY 2.0.


  • 3 large onions, chopped
  • Oil
  • 4 (10 oz.) boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chopped fresh dill or dried dill weed
  • 1 large carton of cottage cheese
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ – ½ lb. feta cheese, crumbled
  • ½ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese or more to taste
  • Melted butter
  • Phyllo dough, thawed according to package instructions


  1. Sauté onion in oil until soft. Add spinach and salt, pepper, and dill to taste.
  2. Cook a few minutes. Cool.
  3. Stir in cottage cheese, eggs, feta, and parmesan.
  4. Heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 10 × 15-inch cookie sheet with six buttered layers of phyllo dough.
  5. Spread filling over dough. Cover with 6 sheets of buttered phyllo. Bake until golden.