In just the past 50 years, the number of local arts agencies (LAAs) has blossomed from 400 to approximately 5,000. Once primarily nonprofit, volunteer-driven organizations that solely presented programming, they are now are a mix of both public and private agencies that leverage billions of dollars to advance the arts, ensuring broad access to the arts and improving the quality of their communities. Local arts agencies range in size, scope, population demographics, and services offered. They are customized to the communities they serve—uniquely designed to meet the needs and enrich the lives of its constituency.

Within the estimated 5,000 LAAs in the United States, roughly 75 percent are private nonprofit organizations, whereas 25 percent are public agencies of a city or county government.

(from our Monograph, Local Arts Agencies 2010)


Advocacy & Policy

LAAs can serve both as thought leaders and policy creators on a wide range of topics and issues.

THINK: Arts education, creative economy, economic development, community development, workforce development, cultural tourism, disaster preparedness and response, research, health, inter-cultural understanding and general quality of life.


LAAs can be responsible for the development and management of arts and cultural facilities and venues.

THINK: Live/work space, rehearsal and performance spaces, gallery space, hands-on art centers, or arts organization and creative entrepreneur incubators.

Funding & Financing

LAAs can provide direct investment in the arts and culture community through grants and other financial support programs for artists and arts and cultural organizations or groups.

THINK: Operating or project support grants, and technical assistance or capacity building grants, Non-competitive project/program sponsorships, fellowships, grants for professional development training or special project stipends, public and private matches for projects, crowdfunding initiatives, leveraging funds via bonds, facilitating collaboratives or micro-lending.

Partnerships & Planning

LAAs can play a key role in uniting and connecting with local partners to address community needs and make their  communities more healthy, vibrant and equitable

THINK: Working with public schools, the Convention and Visitor Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, cultural planning, health and human service providers, colleges and universities, disaster preparedness and response and a wide range of city and state government agencies.

Programs & Events

LAAs can be the organization responsible for providing free or broad public arts and cultural experiences and opportunities to their community.

THINK: After school arts education programs, public art, free concerts in the park, exhibitions, heritage and preservation efforts, festivals or special events.


LAAs can provide a portfolio of services to support the creative economy and arts and culture ecosystem.

THINK: Professional and creative workforce development workshops or classes incubation and fiscal sponsor services, marketing, administrative/back office services, box office, or discipline specific workshops and trainings.


LAAs can leverage their broader network and resources to drive public goodwill and communicate the importance and value of arts and culture in healthy, equitable and vibrant communities.

THINK: Community-wide marketing campaigns, Cultural tourism, civic engagement initiatives, arts and cultural event calendars, festivals, multi-sector programs, research, convenings/focus groups or media partnerships.

Thinking of starting a local arts agency (LAA)? The first and most important question is why?

Is there a community need for an LAA and your community doesn’t have one already?

If the answer is a resounding yes, check out our resources to help you start a program!

Making arts education a priority begins with building a unified front among parents, faculty, administrators, and fellow school board leaders. It also involves a commitment on the part of the school board to allocate and secure funding for the future sustainability of such programming. Check out our Arts Education Navigator: Getting Started e-book  that covers the following steps to ensure you’re covering all your bases:

  1. Know Your Arts Education Policy
  2. Build School Board Consensus
  3. Identify Funding Sources
  4. Engage the Community


Becoming a nonprofit organization is a form of incorporation. The process of obtaining your 501(c)(3) status is the same for an arts organization as it is for any other nonprofit organizations. You must be incorporated as a nonprofit organization before applying to the IRS for 501(c)(3) status.

The actual process of incorporation varies from state to state and takes some time because it requires approval from certain state agencies. It is a good idea to receive legal advice when considering any issues of incorporation.

Americans for the Arts is not a grantmaking organization. For more information about funding opportunities, check with your state arts agency (you can find yours on your state page!) and the Foundation Center.

State arts agencies increase public access to the arts and work to ensure that every community in America enjoys the cultural, civic, economic, and educational benefits of a thriving arts sector. State arts agencies:

  • Offer grants to artists, arts organizations and community organizations.
  • Train and provide technical assistance for artists and arts organizations.
  • Advance arts education through teacher training, curriculum development.
  • Conduct research on the impact of the arts.
  • Preserve and celebrate unique cultural heritage traditions in their state.
  • Recognize and promote artistic achievement.

All 50 states and the six U.S. jurisdictions (American Samoa, District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) have state arts agencies. Visit our state directory.

Private LAAs

  • Private, nonprofit organizations
  • Revenues usually include a mixture of individual and business donations; membership dues; foundation support; earned-income activities; and grants or service contracts from local, state, and federal governments
  • More likely to be actively engaged in marketing and public relations, online art and event calendars, audience development, volunteer recruitment, board development, and individual giving
  • Usually found in smaller communities

Public LAAs

  • Public LAAs are part of the city or county government. Increasingly, public LAAs are located throughout municipal government (e.g., mayor’s office, local economic development departments, and tourism and community development agencies).
  • Largest source of revenue is from local government and the their largest expenditure is awarding grants and contracts to local artists and cultural institutions
  • Usually found in medium to large communities

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency that would provide federal funding to local arts organizations, in response to mounting pressure from American Council for the Arts (ACA) and other voices advocating for a federal agency that would fund the arts. In 1996, American Council for the Arts and National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies (NALAA) merged to form Americans for the Arts.

The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded more than $4 billion to date to state arts in support of artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. They support the arts through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector.

Most LAAs are involved in arts education in some capacity; their programming, however, differs as much as the organizations themselves. Common ways local arts agencies get involved with arts education include programming (workshops and classes), community engagement (such as public art projects), partnerships with schools, and funding (scholarships and grants). 

Here is a diverse list of a few local arts agencies involved in arts education work.

Americans for the Arts recently completed Arts & Economic Prosperity IV, our fourth study of the nonprofit arts and culture industry's impact on the economy, looking at 2009–2012. The most comprehensive study of its kind ever conducted, it gives us a quantifiable economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences.

Nationally, the arts industry generated $135.2 billion, which supports 4.13 million full-time jobs and generates $86.68 billion in resident household income. Our industry also generates $22.3 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments every year - a yield well beyond their collective $4 billion in arts allocations. To estimate the economic impact of your nonprofit arts and culture organization - or even your entire nonprofit arts community - try the free and simple Arts & Economic Prosperity IV Calculator.

The best way to find out if you have a local arts agency in your community is to check the Americans for the Arts Arts Services Directory.

Topic Page News Tabs

Jul 22, 2016

Americans for the Arts and the National Association of Counties (NACo), will present the 2016 Public Leadership in the Arts Award for County Arts Leadership to Dow Constantine of King County, Washington, on Sunday, July 24 at the NACo annual conference in Long Beach, California.

Feb 25, 2016

On Monday, February 22, the National Association of Counties (NACo) approved an arts resolution at their annual Legislative Conference in Washington. The resolution supports the promotion of the arts and culture in America’s counties, and allows NACo to lobby and advocate for arts-related issues on Capitol Hill. It is evident that NACo is in strong support of increased funding for federal arts organizations.

Feb 07, 2017

ASC announced the new grant in August 2015 in response to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community’s interest in arts, science, history, and heritage programming, and a desire to experience more community-focused and innovative cultural programs.

Nov 04, 2016

The Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis (A&E) and Wells Fargo Advisors recently announced a continued partnership in the areas of arts and culture.

Oct 28, 2016

Through a recent donation from the Jennifer Lawrence Foundation, the

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