AHA! Project Receives NEA Grant to Increase Community Outreach to Groups in New Bedford and Surrounding Towns

New Bedford’s AHA! (Art, History, Architecture) Project is one of two Massachusetts groups to be awarded a 2004 National Endowment for the Arts “Challenge America: Access to the Arts Fast Track Grant.”

With the $10,000 NEA grant award AHA! staff and partners will have the time and resources to reach out to many community groups that are currently not taking advantage of these free nights of arts & culture programming. As Margie Butler, AHA! Program Director states, “AHA! Nights provide an invaluable service to our community and something we can all take pride in. We are trying hard to make sure as many people as possible share in this experience.”

Through an audience survey conducted this past summer AHA! has become aware of the need to reach out to the underserved communities right here in New Bedford. By working more closely with groups such as the YMCA and YWCA, Nativity Prep and city youth and neighborhood organizations AHA! will seek to spread the word about the second Thursday Night events and create situations where members from these groups can collaborate and participate in AHA! programming. Tracy Furtado, Executive Director of Brick by Brick and AHA! Steering Committee member relates, “I hope this initiative will provide the stepping stone for many individuals and families to experience the excitement, beauty and pleasure of all these nights have to offer, and at the same time give them the chance to feel a little more connected to their own community.”

In addition to underserved New Bedford groups, this NEA grant also enables AHA! to work with arts and culture groups in surrounding towns who can greatly enrich this project and contribute to the sustainability of New Bedford’s downtown. AHA! recognizes that many arts appreciators who live in the Southcoast do not associate downtown New Bedford with a thriving arts & culture scene. Butler offers, “What better way to shift perceptions than to host area arts and culture groups to come experience and join in AHA! Nights?” There is also a historical basis for New Bedford’s role as a cultural hub. Candace Lee Heald, AHA! Steering Committee Chair and New Bedford Whaling Museum Director of Programs reflects, “New Bedford was traditionally the commercial and cultural center for surrounding towns. Our goal is to recapture that feeling as a current-day hub for the arts & culture.”

By providing free, monthly arts and culture nights since July 1998 AHA! has embraced its mission to increase the awareness of New Bedford’s cultural resources and help stimulate economic activity. On second Thursday Nights from 5-9 pm, the AHA! Project attracts anywhere from several hundred to well over 1,000 community members and visitors to the downtown.1

Since its establishment in 1965 the NEA has sought to foster excellence in the arts and bring arts to all Americans. “Challenge America: Access to the Arts” grants are provided to specifically support small and mid-sized organizations for projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations.

The diversity of the art, music, theater, dance, and lectures provided on AHA! Nights allows the project to think expansively about who might be interested in attending and participating. With the NEA grant AHA! partners can work to capitalize on these strengths and reach many more individuals. Butler recounts, “Collaboration is the key to why AHA! has been a success and this NEA funding will extend that collaborative opportunity to many more people helping our AHA! Nights to be true community events.”

1. UMD Center for Policy Analysis AHA! Economic Impact Studies available online at www.umassd.edu/cfpa