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The Arts Extension Service (AES) was founded by former State Senator Stan Rosenberg as a program of Continuing & Professional Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Modeled after Robert Gard's Office of Community Arts Development at the University of Wisconsin, AES was originally created to extend the cultural and educational resources of the University to stimulate cultural activity across Massachusetts.

Rosenberg was inspired by Robert Gard’s work in Wisconsin. Gard's Wisconsin Idea Theater was heir to the Lyceum and Chautauqua movements and a turn-of-the-century progressive reform movement in which state government and the university worked closely together to extend the opportunity for learning throughout the state. Like Gard, Rosenberg sought to build stronger communities by stimulating the organization of community arts councils. In its early years, AES laid the ground work that would result in the creation of local cultural councils in every community in Massachusetts.

AES still works in this university outreach, community development tradition.  Originally serving the communities of western Massachusetts, AES teaching, consulting, and publications now reach a nation-wide audience.

Educational programming has long been a central function. Through workshops, courses, conferences and consulting, AES has taught artists, community and state arts leaders how to manage the arts. Publications that were originally developed to enhance the educational value of workshops have subsequently grown so that AES is now a publisher with ten titles currently in print. Publications range from our most well-known, Fundamentals of Arts Management, to the classic, Community Cultural Planning Handbook: A Guide for Community Leaders.

The size and nature of AES staff varies according to our programming and funding levels. AES staff are part of a larger College of Humanities and Fine Arts team. AES financial systems, personnel, and information technology are managed by Dean's Office staff. AES has a formal system of AES Associates. These independent consultants work as subcontractors on AES teaching, research, and consulting projects. They add skills, capacity, geographic balance and racial diversity to the AES staff. Associates also serve as advisors to AES staff in program planning and evaluation and development.

There is a closely related, though independent, not-for-profit organization, Arts Extension Institute (AEI) that raises funds for the community arts development work of AES. AEI is governed by an independent board, which advises AES staff.

AES is partially sustained by revenues earned from teaching, consulting, publication sales, and grants.

AES Directors: