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David Fraher Fund for Innovation

In 2019, Arts Midwest established the David Fraher Fund for Innovation in honor of former President & CEO David Fraher. This Fund recognizes and celebrates David’s legacy of curiosity by creating a space for Arts Midwest to pursue a question that was at the forefront of his career: What if we tried something different?

President & CEO David J. Fraher in his office at Arts Midwest
Photo Credit: Marianne Combs, MPR News

“David’s career at Arts Midwest measurably changed American culture for the better.”

Dana Gioia, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts

Rooted in the belief that artists and organizations thrive when they are given the space to think big and test new ways of working with their communities, the David Fraher Fund for Innovation was created to offer a source of courage funding to seed new projects and new ideas. It invites our field to reimagine how we work together to ensure the Midwest continues to be a place where arts and culture thrive. And it creates space to take risks, learn from them, and pivot along the way.

About David J. Fraher

David J. Fraher served as Arts Midwest’s founding president and CEO from 1983 until August of 2019. During that time, David guided Arts Midwest to its current position as a major force in the U.S. arts and culture landscape, with creative programs and services reaching close to one million individuals each year in communities across the Midwest, the nation, and the world.

At the helm of Arts Midwest, David designed and oversaw an array of programs that have had a lasting impact on the region’s cultural landscape. These include efforts to foster cultural exchange between the Midwest and more than three dozen nations around the world; support communities across our nine-state region in celebrating, exploring, and enjoying performing arts residencies and visual arts exhibitions; and develop leadership initiatives that have since strengthened arts organizations and our region’s cultural infrastructure for decades. His vision was for a region that had lasting access to creativity, and he approached all of his work with curiosity and collaboration.

That compelling vision, and David’s unprecedented leadership, have been recognized nationally and internationally, with awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, National Assembly for State Arts Agencies, the Ministry of Culture of the People’s Republic of China, and the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, among others.

As Dana Gioia, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts reflected, “David’s career at Arts Midwest measurably changed American culture for the better.” Arts Midwest is honored to celebrate David’s legacy and to continue to bring his visionary work to communities across our region.

Innovating Impact

Here is how the Innovation Fund has been used to date.

We will use the Innovation Fund to make grants to each of our nine member state arts agencies to advance innovation within their states. This approach will ensure that innovation and creativity are thriving at the state and local levels across our region. 

We are contracting with the Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies to gather data on the 42 Native Nations in the Arts Midwest region. This project is supporting Arts Midwest in advancing our Living Commitment to Native Nations and will result in a data set with information pertaining to reservations, treaties, and governance structures. We plan to use this data to strengthen our understanding of how we can best support Native Nations and communities in the Midwest.


In 2023, Arts Midwest launched a new storytelling effort: the Creativity News Desk. We drew on support from the Innovation Fund to enhance our planning around this effort. Here, we contracted with industry experts and gathered media representatives from across the Midwest to brainstorm how we might work together to amplify stories about the power and importance of Midwestern creativity. In its first year, the News Desk published more than 60 stories viewed 160,000 times that celebrating art, culture, and creativity in the Midwest.


Our 2020 shared conference provided important insights into how we could best serve the performing arts industry via a virtual marketplace and showcases. With considerable feedback from constituents about the 2020 conference platform – and without the Western Arts Alliance as a partner – we shifted strategy for 2021 and leveraged support from the Innovation Fund to host a new gathering platform with added functionality to connect our colleagues.


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Arts Midwest partnered with the Western Arts Alliance to pivot our annual performing arts booking and education conferences to a shared virtual platform. The Innovation Fund helped support the unexpected costs of making this substantial shift in how we gathered, connected, and supported our colleagues.


Thanks to the Innovation Fund supporters.

We wish to extend our gratitude to the friends, colleagues, and leaders across our community who have invested in this Fund.

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