Regional arts programs first emerged in the late 1960’s in the Rocky Mountain and Lower Plains states, in response to a need for greater access to performing arts touring in areas isolated from major cultural centers. The development of regional organizations was encouraged in 1973 by the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) House reauthorizing committee, which stated its belief that:
Cooperation among states in their activities to support the arts can significantly serve the purposes of this act… It is felt that the regional approach would better serve the cultural needs of the people in many areas by allowing the full utilization of the resources of several states to be brought to bear where special needs exist.Accordingly, the Endowment’s legislation was revised in 1973 to make regional groups eligible to receive a portion of the program funds previously available only to state arts agencies.
With federal encouragement, seven regional organizations were formed at the initiative of the states to administer support for programs handled most cost effectively on a multi-state basis. The concept of regional arts organizations addressed the NEA’s interest in more effective mechanisms to deliver certain services especially those related to touring and presenting the performing arts. They were a solution to the states’ desire to create a means to address multi-state issues, which their individual legislatures did not recognize and to increase NEA support for their artists and communities.
The Regionals today are private, non-profit entities serving regional areas that have been designed by the state arts agencies. Fifty-four of the fifty-six states and jurisdictions are currently participating in Regionals.
The Regionals are funded by the NEA based on various formulas relating to the number of states in each region and historical data concerning support for performing arts touring. Funds for RAO’s come from the amount of the NEA’s appropriation that Congress sets aside for the “states and their regional organizations.”