Start a Local Arts Agency

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 services@artsusa.org  for more information on starting a local arts agency.

Start a United Arts Fund

A United Arts Fund is a combined appeal for arts funding conducted annually to raise unrestricted money on behalf of three or more arts, culture, and/or science organizations. Loosely based on the United Way model, more than 100 communities across the country have established United Arts Funds over the past 54 years.

  • Download our guide, Starting a United Arts Fund [PDF, 1.48 MB] to learn more.
  • Contact the Private-Sector Initiatives Coordinator for more information on starting a United Arts Fund.
  • Take a look at this PowerPoint presentation on steps to take to start a United Arts Fund, created by Alecia Townsend Kintner, Deputy Director of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, for the UAF 101 session at the Americans for the Arts 2007 Annual Convention in Las Vegas.

Start an Arts & Business Council Chapter

Arts and business partnerships are a win-win for everyone. An Arts & Business Council Chapter is an organization or suite of programs dedicated to bringing arts organizations and business together to mutually benefit each other. Do you see great potential for businesses in your community to partner with local arts organizations? Contact the Private-Sector Initiatives Coordinator for more information on starting and Arts & Business Council Chapter.

Start a Business Volunteers for the Arts® Program

Are you committed to helping nonprofit arts organizations improve their business practices, or do you know a lot of business professional looking to contribute their time and talent in a meaningful and creative way through the arts? Since 1975, Business Volunteers for the Arts® programs have paired businesses with arts organizations by contributing employee ex­pertise and talents on a wide range of consulting projects for arts organizations.

Read more about Business Volunteers for the Arts or contact the Private-Sector Initiatives Coordinator for more information on starting a BVA 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.

  1. To start an Arts Education Network, contact the Arts Education Program Manager
  2. To start a Public Art Network, contact the Public Art Program Manager
  3. To start an Emerging Leaders Network for young arts professionals, check out Emerging Leaders Tools & Resources or contact the Field Education and Leadership Programs Manager.

Please contact us for more information about services for your community.