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Senior Program Director, New England Presenting & Touring, Center Stage

Watch this webinar to learn more about the changes to our New England States Touring (NEST) Grant in advance of the Idea Swap on November 2. The deadline to apply for NEST 3 support is March 1, 2023. ASL interpretation provided by Elizabeth Nadolski and Lisa Gentile.

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Adrienne Petrillo: Before we begin today, I would like to acknowledge the land on which we are meeting. While we are meeting virtually, NEFA's offices are based on the traditional lands of the Massachusett, Wampanoag, and Nipmuc people. We honor their ancestors, past, present, and future, and recognize their continued existence and contributions to our society. At NEFA, we believe that one of the roles of the arts is to make the invisible visible. We also believe that it is not the responsibility of those who have been made invisible to remind us that they are still here. We also acknowledge that all places where we provide support and hold events, are indigenous lands, and we offer our respect to those who have continued to steward the land on which we meet. We will take a moment to pause, and I invite you to reflect on the deep history of these lands and those people.

Adrienne: Thank you. So, I'd like to formally introduce myself. I'm Adrienne Petrillo. I'm the Senior Program Director for New England Presenting and Touring here at NEFA. I'm joining you today from Massachusett, Nipmuc, and Wampanoag land, and I am joined by my colleague, Falyn. Falyn, if you would like to introduce yourself.

Falyn Rose Elhard: Hello all, my name is Falyn Rose Elhard. I use they/them pronouns, and I am the Program Coordinator for New England Presenting and Touring here at NEFA. I am living on the unceded lands of the Wampanoag, Narragansetts, and Pokanoket peoples in Providence, Rhode Island.

Adrienne: Thank you. We are also joined today by our ASL interpreters, Elizabeth Nadolski and Lisa Gentile. Our agenda for today: we will do an overview of the NEST grant program. We will also talk about CreativeGround, and how that intersects with the NEST program. We will have time at the end of the session for questions. You are welcome to drop questions into the chat as well, and we'll do our best to either answer them, or we may ask you to hold your question to the end, and we will address them at that time. Today we are here to talk about the NEST program. NEST is one of NEFA's many grant programs. It supports projects based in New England, and we have several other programs at NEFA that do that as well. I encourage you to review our website for more information about other opportunities that NEFA offers, because today will be focused only on the NEST 3 program. NEST is the oldest of NEFA's programs and, really, the core support for New England organizations. NEST connects artists with communities in our region. It is publicly funded and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the six State Arts Agencies in New England. While NEST has been around for almost NEFA's entire history, there are currently three versions of the program: NEST 1, NEST 2, and NEST 3. No claims for creativity there, but NEST 1 and 2 are exclusively for supporting performances and activities by New England artists, and we won't be covering those in detail today, but there is information available on our website. Today's webinar will focus on NEST 3, which is the newest iteration of the NEST program.

I'd like to share about the goals of the NEST program, which informs the program design, as well as the funding criteria. So, it's important to understand the big picture of what NEST is trying to do. Broadly speaking, NEST supports access to high quality artists and aesthetic diversity for New England communities, connecting people to artists from New England, other parts of the United States, and the world. As I mentioned, NEST is supported by the NEA and the six State Arts Agencies in New England and supporting access to the arts for everyone is an important goal of our federal and state partner. Now, more than ever, we continue to be focused on supporting live arts events as much as possible, though, certainly, the virtual has become part of the process as well. The NEST program also stimulates collaborations and partnerships between New England cultural organizations, artists, and communities. The field of Regional Presenting and Touring is an interconnected ecosystem, and NEST funds help support creative partnerships between arts presenters and artists. We also encourage projects and engagements that provide meaningful exchange between artists and New England communities. These are opportunities that extend beyond the stage and beyond the performance, and can help shape deeper interactions, and enhance the audience experience of the arts and understanding of the artist's work. This can lead to more meaningful connections for both the artist and for the community.

What is NEST 3? That is the question we're here to try to answer for you today. NEST 3 funds presentations of regional, national, and international artists, who are being presented by a minimum of three nonprofit organizations in at least two New England states. Those organizations are also known as presenters. So, you may hear me use the word organizations or presenters interchangeably. In terms of eligibility, and again, you'll see this noted that eligible organizations, also known as arts presenters, are organizations that offer performing arts programming and represent a range of different types of organizations. But, in terms of eligibility criteria, they must be a 501c3 nonprofit, or a school, or government agency, or a federally recognized tribal government, and they must be based in New England. Just for the sake of clarity, I will say that the six New England states are Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. New England does not include New York. Applicant organizations also do not need to be arts organizations. So, we support a number of different types of organizations including theaters, performing arts centers, festivals, and museums. We also support art centers based at universities, but also at public schools, educational programs, libraries, community arts organizations, parks and rec departments, historical societies. As long as it is a 501c3 or government entity and based in New England, the organization is eligible to apply.

NEST funds presentations of regional, national, and international artists who are hosted, as I said, by three nonprofits in at least two New England states. At least three organizations in two different states must submit an application for the same artist or ensemble. When I say artist, I do mean an ensemble or a group, not necessarily an individual. Those three organizations coming together is the definition of a tour for the NEST grant program. Tours may include more than three organizations and may include more than two states. Organizations applying may request up to 60% of the total artist fee. This fee can include travel accommodations and per diem. So, all of those things together, makes up the total artist fee. If the total artist fee is $2,000 or less, the organization may request up to 100% of the fee. Grant amounts for NEST 3 range from $500 to 10,000. And these grant amounts are per organization on the tour. So, if you have three organizations on the tour, it's possible, each one can get $10,000. Though, I will say, typically grants fall more within the $5,000-$7,000 range, or at least they did before COVID. A lot has, obviously, shifted, but I would say in general, we are trying to make substantial grants through the NEST 3 program. Applications must also include at least one public performance, meaning that it must be open to the public and advertised accordingly. We're happy to support activities that are set within school settings, but there must also be one performance that is open to the general public. This may mean an artist is in a community, working with a school for several days, and then at the end of their residency, they also offer a performance that is open to anyone in the community to attend. Online performances and community engagement activities continue to be okay in these COVID times. So, if part of an engagement or all of an engagement is happening virtually, that's absolutely fine. Organizations who are applying to NEST 3 may submit up to three applications, which means that a single organization can be part of up to three tours. The grant period for these tours is June 1st, 2023 to August 31st, 2024, and all funded activities must take place within that timeframe. The tour dates do not have to be contiguous. So, it can be that if there's three different presenters involved, each one could be doing an engagement with the artist at a different time. One might be having the artist in June, another in September, another in December, or they may all be tightly routed. All of that is fine, as long as activities take place within the grant period.

The NEST program does not fund events that are not open to the public and advertised. As I noted, everything must include at least one public performance. NEST also does not fund any events outside of New England. It does not fund fundraisers, and by fundraisers, we mean events that have a very high-ticket price, where the artists who's engaged, might just be playing in the background, and is not actually the featured performer. Applicants are more than welcome to make money on their event. We have no problem with revenue being earned, but that is not the same thing as hosting a fundraiser. Activities and programs that are exclusively in schools, so they're only with students, and do not engage the general public, are not funded through this program. Also, performances in which the performers are primarily students, are not supported. This program is intended to support professional performing artists to do their work. This program does not fund self-produced presentations by artists or ensembles. There must be a presenter involved who is hosting, presenting, and paying the artist. Producing organizations, such as a symphony or a choral group, who are inviting a guest conductor or a guest soloist to perform as part of a concert with the group, is also not eligible for NEST funding. And finally, presentations of projects that have funding available through NEFA's National Dance Project (NDP) or National Theater Project (NTP) are not eligible for funding. The NDP and NTP programs (because we need to abbreviate everything here at NEFA) they select artists who receive touring subsidies each year. There is a new roster of funded projects always available to presenters. And so, if those projects have funding available for touring, presenters must go through those programs to access it. If you do, for anyone who does present dance or theater, there are amazing, amazing projects every year supported through that program, and I highly recommend taking a look at those as well, for your programming.

The NEST grants are awarded through a competitive selection process, and the amount of funding is based on the extent to which projects meet this funding criteria. So, the funding criteria is really critical to the funding and to the application process. The first criterion is that there must be a clear rationale for how the project aligns with the art, with the organization's arts programming goals, and its significance for the community. This is the place for applicants to talk about the artists. The artist should be named. If the artist's name isn't anywhere in this section, it's a problem. This is the chance to talk about the artists, to describe their work, and talk about why, for the organization, why they want to bring the artists to their community. Second, is that we look for collaborative planning among tour partners and artists, and the featured artists should be included in that planning as much as possible. This is a great place to be specific about what that planning looks like. For instance, have there been conference calls, either between all of the presenters involved and the artist, or with the artist or their representative, or is there any sharing of resources, marketing materials, educational materials, study guides? We've seen a lot of instances where an organization that has a lot of educational resources has helped to create educational resources that can then be shared across all of the tour partners. Examples like that are great, and I strongly recommend being as specific as possible. Additional activities beyond the performance that provide opportunities for the artists to meaningfully engage and connect with various sectors of the community are also part of this program. Cross-sector exchange and collaboration are strongly encouraged. Cross-sector meaning, arts with non-arts. So, arts and healthcare, arts and environment, can be arts and science, anything that's cross-sector is always great to see. We're looking for ways that the community has opportunity to engage with the artist and engage with their work. Finally, we are looking for projects that expand access to the arts for all New England communities, including rural, and/or Black, Indigenous, or People of Color, also known as BIPOC communities. We acknowledge there are structural inequities that have excluded individuals and communities from opportunities based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, class, age, language, culture, and geography, and we strive to counter those inequities in our work. I recommend that you take a look at our value statement regarding equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. We also really encourage organizations who are serving rural and or BIPOC communities, to apply to the NEST program. And then, we also have one funding priority. So, a priority is not weighted quite as strongly as the rest of the criteria, but we are looking for projects that reflect diverse revenue sources. So, that's revenue from whether that's admissions, sponsorship, other private foundations, individuals, or government agencies. We know that NEFA cannot be the only source of funding, and we do want to see that there are plans to include other funders in the mix, and a strong mix of revenue is important. The applications which best address the funding criteria are likely to receive funding. The funding amount also depends on how well the application meets the criteria. So, in other words, the stronger the application, the higher the grant amount. NEFA's staff is also available, in advance of the deadline, to give you advice, guidance on how to address the criteria. The full application from NEST 3 will not be available until early 2023. However, you can preview narrative questions on our website currently, and if you do that, you will see a direct correlation between the narrative questions and the funding criteria. And, here's my insider tip for everybody. If the answer to one one of the narrative questions, you feel like your answer is no or not applicable, that does not make for a strong application. If we ask a question about how you have collaborated with partners, it is because we expect to see collaboration with partners. And, that is what we are looking for when we assess these applications. My other advice, when answering narrative questions, is specificity. The most common feedback we hear from our panelists is that they want more details about the project. And so, I recommend taking full advantage of the space that's provided. There are character counts to what you can enter, but I would say, please use the amount of space that is there, and try to answer with as much specificity as possible. Thank you. And with that, I'm going to turn it to my colleague Falyn, who's going to talk a little bit more about the application and review process.

Falyn: Thank you. So, approaching the deadline, everyone that is interested in applying should really contact NEFA staff to confirm the project's eligibility. We don't want you spending time on writing a grant for a project, that ultimately winds up being ineligible for funding. Especially so, for people who are less familiar to the grant program, first time applicants. All applicants are responsible for negotiating the terms of the engagement with the artist. That is not a step in the process that NEFA is involved with. It's also, again, strongly encouraged that there are activities with community partners. Sense of community engagement is something that is very strongly considered, and the evaluation of the applications, if there is no, or minimal, community engagement, it will not make for a strong application. Everyone is also responsible for submitting the application by the deadline date. The deadline date is always posted on our website on the page where you can access the application itself weeks in advance. It is typically on the first business day of March. Sometimes, it shifts by a week or two, but either way, all applications must be submitted by 11:59 PM on the day that it is due. Any later, and you will not be able to submit. Additionally, presenters are responsible for verifying that a New England artist is listed as NEST eligible on the CreativeGround's directory. I will be talking about what exactly that means in another moment, but NEST eligibility is not meant to be a barrier to application. It's meant to strengthen the artist and the application itself. If the artist does not become NEST eligible by the deadline, you can still submit your application, but the artists will need to become NEST eligible as soon as possible. For projects featuring artists based outside of New England, one partner in the tour needs to submit a work sample for the artist. For New England artists, the CreativeGround profile serves as their work sample, so to be NEST eligible, their profile needs to have audio or video samples of their work. But, for artists outside of New England, they will not have CreativeGround profiles. And so, at least, or only one presenter on the tour will have to submit a work sample for them.

The application review process. NEST 3 features a peer panel review process. Panelists can include presenters, artists, agents, managers, and others, with knowledge of the presenting and touring fields. They may be from New England, but many are not, because it can be very difficult to find people in New England, who don't have a conflict of interest. We are a small region, after all. The panelists may or may not be familiar with the New England arts landscape, and so, you should keep that in mind when you are talking about your artist or community in your application. You should not assume that the panelists will have knowledge about your organization, or your city, or town. NEFA's staff facilitate the panel meeting, and we may supply contextual information, when requested, but we do not participate in the review process itself. All final decisions are made by the panel. Applicants will be notified of funding decisions in early May. We realize that this timing is challenging for organizations that do presenting in the summer, starting in June, and so, that's another thing to be aware of, if you are considering applying. And, it is also why the grant period, the time during which all activities must take place, includes two summers: 2023 and 2024. With all of our grant programs, we offer panel feedback once the process has concluded, whether or not your application was funded. It's never a bad idea to get feedback and learn about what was done well, or what might be improved upon. NEFA grants are generally paid as reimbursement grants. So, if you are awarded a grant, you won't actually get the money until all activities have taken place, you've submitted your grantee report, and it has been reviewed to make sure that all necessary components are there and approved for funding. If needed, we can make partial payments in advance, on a case by case basis.

CreativeGround and other NEFA Resources. In the past two slides, I have referenced CreativeGround. It's a very useful tool that we have here in New England. We keep mentioning how you're going to need touring partners throughout New England. And, you might be wondering, "how do I find those partners?" CreativeGround is an excellent tool to do that. It's a robust directory of New England's artists and cultural organizations. All NEST applicant organizations must, themselves, maintain an updated profile in the CreativeGround directory for their cultural nonprofits. And, a NEST eligible artist profile is required for projects featuring New England based artists. You are able to search CreativeGround in a variety of ways, and you can filter by things like, organization type, artistic discipline, geography, et cetera. You can use CreativeGround to find NEST eligible artists and to find touring partners. As a reminder, only artists and organizations that are based in New England may create profiles on CreativeGround. Another resource that is available to you is NEFA's annual Idea Swap. The Idea Swap is an annual gathering of New England arts presenters, cultural organizers, and artists, for networking and sharing touring project ideas. Last year, due to the pandemic, we held Idea Swap virtually over two days, but we are happy to say that this year, we will be returning to an in-person event, which will happen on November 2nd, 2022, in our usual venue, Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts. Organizations that are based in New England are encouraged to attend Idea Swap to learn more about the potential tours that people are looking to put together and to find touring partners that they might collaborate with. And with that, I will pass it on to Adrienne, again.

Adrienne: Thank you, Falyn. We can go to the next slide, which actually wraps up our presentation. So, it is always important to thank your funders. So, I do want to give another shout out to our partners at the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the six New England State Arts Agencies. They're critical to the work that we do here in New England.

As a reminder, Falyn and I are both here to answer questions you have about the NEST program. We are accessible through email and phone. We will return your calls. We will return your email. We are also here as the deadline approaches. We're happy to talk with folks about how to make the application as strong as possible. And we are, as Falyn mentioned, in the midst of planning for our Idea Swap event on November 2nd, and so we hope we'll see many of you there. It will be a great opportunity to connect, and reconnect, and meet new folks, especially as we have all been so socially distanced in the last couple of years, and we expect to hear a lot about projects that may be touring the region, and could lead to potential NEST 3 applications. If you are new to the NEST program or NEFA's work in general, we always encourage you to call us before you submit an application. And so, we can verify that your project does meet eligibility, and guide you in any way that might help with your application. So, thank you so much for joining us. I do see, we have a question in the chat, and folks are welcome to put questions into the chat or use the raise hand feature in Zoom.

The question is, "how is Idea Swap the same or different from WAA, Arts Midwest, and other regional conferences? Is it basically a New England version of one of these booking conferences as the others have been known?" So, I would say Idea Swap, yes and no, it is not quite a booking conference. We try to be clear on that. It's a much smaller scale than some of those other regional conferences. It's usually, I think, this year, with some capacity limits, will be at about 200 people. It's just for one day, and it's really a networking and relationship building event. So, there's lots of opportunities for presenters to talk to presenters, for presenters to talk to artists, for artists to talk to other artists, but it really is the start of conversation. And so, our hope is that folks will gather in November, and talk, and meet. And, some of those folks may reconnect at the APAP conference that happens in January in New York, and there will be more conversation, and then that may lead to some NEST 3 applications in March. But, we also hope people meet at Idea Swap, and that they're still talking to each other three years from now. And, that is something we have seen. We have folks who come to Idea Swap every year, and it's about hearing about, learning about artists, and learning about projects that might be touring the region, but really, it's about networking and trying to build those relationships. Is there any other questions? If you have a question, and you want to come off mute and ask your question, you're welcome to do that.

Brian: Yeah, Adrienne, this, this is Brian. I had asked that question about Idea Swap. So what I'm trying to figure out is, is the distinction you're making, my only reference point is Artist Midwest, WAA, some of the regional conferences. So, I'm trying to understand the distinction you're making about how it's not a booking conference, I guess. I guess I see those as exactly how you just described it. They're more about opening conversations. I know there's some people that go there to do selling, and it is transactional for some, from some agents and presenters, but that's not how I've seen it, as an independent artist. So, is that a good way, is that a good framing of this? It's less booth and exhibit hall model, and more, I don't know... Are there, like, events every hour on the hour, like talks and all that, or can you just, kind of, tell us what it's like, especially from an artist, I'm interested from the artist perspective.

Adrienne: Sure, absolutely. Those are great questions. So yes, I would say it is less transactional. There are no booths or exhibit halls. Though, certainly, people bring materials and put them out, but that includes presenters and other attendees as well. There is project sharing, which could also be called project pitching, but it is done in a very specific format and that pitching comes both from artists, but also presenters who are talking about artists that they want to bring to their community. And so, I do, kind of, frame it as a relationship building event, also, to set expectations in that, you may not necessarily walk out with a set of bookings. If that's the goal in attending, you know, that you would sort of come in and leave with a whole tour booked, that's pretty unlikely to happen. It sounds like you understand how that works, but it is a good place to start to get to know who's in the field, who's in New England, what people are interested in, and who's out there doing things. It's a great way to do that. We also, this year, though, the event will be in person, we have an online platform as well. There is some networking that can happen through that platform before, during, and after the event. We're really excited about that new component as well.

Brian: Got it, and do you know what the percentage breakdown of artist, agent, presenters are for that, roughly and historically?

Adrienne: So, historically I would say it's 50 to 60% presenters and 40% artists, and there's very few agents. There's a tiny handful who may come, but it is not, again, it's not really geared towards agents. It's a whole new world, so we're not entirely sure what it will look like in person this year.

Brian: Okay, got it.

Adrienne: But, again, registration just opened a couple of weeks ago. So, we're just starting to see registrations come in, and I think Falyn did drop some good info into the Idea Swap page on our website, which will give you, kind of, a sneak peek into what what's happening. And, that page will continue to get updated throughout the next several weeks.

Brian: Got it, yeah, I had seen that. One last question, if I can, the word "project." So, as a musician and a particular artist, we don't necessarily, we don't present ourselves as doing projects and programs necessarily. It's, the music's really, it's internally composed, the artist is the identity of the program. Is that okay, to just frame that as that, when you talk about pitching a project, then, that can be synonymous with the artist, or do you really mean a project of some kind?

Adrienne: No, we're just trying to be as all-encompassing as possible. So, it may be what you do as an artist, and that's totally fine. There are other artists who have one specific thing they've been working on that they're ready to tour. But, it can be any of that.

Brian: Got it. Great, thank you.

Adrienne: Yeah, you're welcome. Any other questions? You can drop them in the chat or come off mute.

Okay, well, we thank you so much for joining us today. I, also, want to thank my NEFA colleagues, who are helping us behind the scenes, Michelle Daly and Leilani Ricardo, and another thank you to our ASL interpreters. We appreciate your work here today. As we said at the beginning, this session has been recorded, and it will be available on NEFA's website, probably, in another week or so. And, you're welcome to revisit it, and please do feel free to call or email us with any questions. Thank you for joining us today.