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Local arts agencies can be categorized in the following four ways:
- Community arts agencies/councils
- Arts centers
- Cultural arts commissions
- Arts components of other private nonprofit organizations
The four categories suggest that there is a great deal of diversity among local arts agencies. A Community Programs Development Task Force at the National Endowment developed the following definition of local arts agencies several years ago for the arts:
"A public or private not-for-profit organization or agency, whose primary purpose is to provide a support system and network to develop, deliver and sustain arts activities in the community. Its primary function is to provide some or all of the following services: support of individual artists, promotion of arts activities, grantsmaking, space provision and central administration services for arts organizations. A local arts agency often serves as a forum for citizen's opinion and acts as an advocate for public and private support of the arts. In addition, a local arts agency may sponsor programs in cooperation with local and neighborhood organizations, or on its own as a catalyst for audience development and new programming."
Local arts agencies are not single-purpose or discipline organizations, i.e., not primarily an arts service organization, an arts producing organization or an arts presenter.
Arts service organization: primarily service providers rather than artistic producers or presenters. They offer administrative support, technical assistance, financial assistance or service to a variety of arts professionals and disciplines. They may promote arts education or access for a specific community, arts discipline, cultural/artistic heritage or underserved population.
Arts producing: primary focus is the creation, production, performance or exhibition of works of art.
Arts presenting: typically organizes, selects, curates and contracts for events (i.e., concerts, plays, films, performances or appearances by creative artists or artist ensembles.) Rather than creating the artistic event, the presenter acts as a sponsor for a season of performances or events for the community and is often responsible for managing or leasing the facility where the events take place.