An Interview with Jess Porter of The Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation
The Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation is a partner of Jazz Philadelphia and this year’s lead sponsor of the Jazz Philadelphia Summit in partnership with PECO. Jazz Philadelphia shares MAAF’s values, namely that they believe, “art is essential, that it has the power to transform individuals and communities, and that so doing helps define our society. Excellence, integrity, service, inclusion, and engagement are fundamental tenets of its commitment to the arts.”
We recently talked with Jess Porter, Program Officer, Performing Arts, who heads up programming for jazz. We were happy to hear from her that she believes, “The Jazz Philadelphia Summit is a model for jazz communities throughout the region.” She talked about programs to support musicians, her favorite parts of their Living Legacy Jazz Awards, which have moved to Philadelphia, how the pandemic has affected their work, and why they’re investing in Philadelphia.
JP: What are a few of MAAF’s programs that support jazz musicians?
Porter: MAAF has two distinct jazz programs—The Jazz Touring Network and the Jazz Living Legacy Award. Jazz ensembles are regularly supported through MAAF’s USArtists International program, receiving funding to travel and perform at festivals outside of the United States. Presenting organizations in the mid-Atlantic region are also able to take advantage of subsidies to present jazz musicians through many of our touring programs like Mid Atlantic Tours, ArtsCONNECT, and Special Presenters Initiative. MAAF is also pleased to partner with South Arts to provide support to mid-Atlantic musicians considering an application to the Jazz Road Tours program.
JP: How has the pandemic affected your work?
Porter: The pandemic has affected my work significantly. A large part of managing grant programs is providing support and assistance to artists and organizations seeking funding and including general assistance to navigate the arts funding landscape. During the pandemic, the nature of those conversations has changed dramatically—artists and organizations are facing unimaginable circumstances, the systems that we are all used to navigating together have changed and I often find myself listening to emotional testimonies about difficult decisions artists and organizations have been forced to make. At the same time, I’m constantly inspired by the resilience, creativity, and peer support that exists in the arts and culture community, specifically in jazz. I try to translate what I am hearing from the community into meaningful action and program changes. I do feel the pandemic has forced MAAF and its funders to reconsider existing limitations and requirements. As a Program Officer, I am excited about the potential to reimagine some of our existing programs in ways that will better serve artists and organizations.
JP: What’s your favorite part about the Living Legacy Jazz Awards program?
Porter: I really enjoy the behind the scenes process of the Living Legacy Jazz Award Program. Through the selection process, I am able to engage a wide variety of jazz musicians, educators, and advocates as both nominators and panelists. Working closely with those musicians, I am constantly learning about new projects and hearing new stories about our legendary jazz musicians—all while having candid conversations around program practices, equity, and MAAF’s service to the jazz community. It goes without saying that spending time and sharing space with past Living Legacy Jazz Award recipients has been an unexpected life experience and a true honor.
JP: What kind of feedback does MAAF solicit from the people it supports?
Porter: Recently, MAAF hosted a series of Listening Sessions with Philadelphia-based consultant Dragonfly Partners. The goal of these sessions was to hear from our constituents—how MAAF can better deliver on its strategic priorities around equity. Programmatically, we solicit feedback from grantees and panelists. As part of MAAF’s new strategic plan, we will be exploring ways to expand our existing feedback loops and foster learning communities around our work. It is crucial that we provide more opportunities for our community to offer feedback, particularly when things are changing so quickly.
JP: Anything you’d like to say about why MAAF is doing more work in Philadelphia?
Porter: Philadelphia is an important place in the cultural landscape of the mid-Atlantic region. Engaging in strategic partnerships in the city and supporting organizations like Jazz Philadelphia will help MAAF connect directly to local artists and organizations that we hope to serve through our programs. These partnerships also help MAAF stay current and aware of what factors are influencing artists and communities and what new opportunities may exist. A robust arts sector and thriving jazz scene in Philadelphia is good for the entire mid-Atlantic region.
MORE INFO ON MAAF
Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation develops partnerships and programs that reinforce artists’ capacity to create and present work and advance access to and participation in the arts.
As one of 6 Regional Arts Organizations, MAAF primarily supports organizations and artists in the mid-Atlantic region including Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Virginia, and West Virginia with the goal of promoting and supporting multi-state programming. Over time MAAF has expanded its programming nationally and internationally through programs like Performing Arts Global Exchange and USArtists International.