CINCINNATI (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) -ArtsWave is set to announce on Monday the 27 grant recipients of its inaugural “Truth & Reconciliation: Project Grants for Black and Brown Artists” program, our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer said.
All told, ArtsWave will distribute $261,638 in grants of up to $10,000. But the goals are far more ambitious and expansive than the modest-sized amounts might suggest.
“Our hope is that these grants will help lead the community toward a more just and equitable future,” said ArtsWave president and CEO Alecia Kintner. ArtsWave had been planning the grants for more than a year. But it is no coincidence that they announced the creation of this new program within months of last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
The program was spurred by a series of conversations between ArtsWave board member Richard Rosenthal and city council member Greg Landsman, who has pushed for city funding to assist individual artists.
“Investing in our local artists is a no-brainer,” said Landsman. “Too many of them, especially Black and brown artists, don’t always get the support they need to succeed. With this, we’re working toward fixing that.”
The City of Cincinnati launched the project with a $75,000 allocation. Other institutional contributors include Duke Energy, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Fifth Third Bank and ArtsWave’s Arts Vibrancy Recovery Fund.
The outpouring of applications – there were 49 – exceeded ArtsWave’s expectations. The winning applications, selected by a panel of community volunteers, present a wildly diverse group of projects. The plan is for them to be realized and presented to the public early this summer.
Some of the projects focus on history, while others are rooted in the tumult of present-day America. Some are created by artists with high profiles, though most are less well known. Some are highly academic, while there is one that involves sketch comedy. There are visual arts, too, and music and others that defy easy description. But that’s precisely what ArtsWave expected. Artists were being asked to deal with complex issues, so it came as no surprise that some of the projects are equally complex.
Some are bound to be provocative and confrontational, as well. And Kintner says that comes with the territory the artists are exploring.
“The truth can be quite challenging. It’s not always comfortable. Art is certainly one of the most effective tools that we have to confront the hard stuff. We can’t shy away from it.”
An artist named phrie (pronounced “free”), for instance, will create something that is part “cultural production” and part performance. On the one hand, it will revolve around her own personal history and how her family came to be in Northern Kentucky. But in a broader way, she will explore the enormous – and often unrecognized – impact of the Great Migration on the culture of Greater Cincinnati.
Michael Coppage’s “Black Box” will combine photography and video to explore the seemingly innocuous impact of the word “black” in phrases with negative connotations. Think about it. “Black Sheep,” “Black Ice,” “Blackmail.” How much of a leap is there, he suggests, from those phrases to painting people of color in a similarly negative light? “In particular,” he adds, “you see that impact on Black men. So my work includes several Black men, from at 14 to 92. Some are entrepreneurs, some independent contractors. There are board members and business owners and models. My goal is to highlight men who aren’t entertainers, athletes or criminals, because those seem to be the only boxes that Black men fit into.”
Gauravi Shah will take a completely different tack. Trained as an engineer, she has become deeply involved in the Cincinnati improv community. So she is creating a 90-minute work of theatrical and comedic sketches focusing on the experiences of people of color. “It will be a little like a ‘Second City’ show,” she said of her five-person show. “I just think a lot of the art pieces are going to be very serious, as they should be – it’s a very grave topic. But I think there is something to be said about making subjects like this accessible.”
Though the city and its many businesses tout the area’s unusually vibrant arts community as a selling point, local public funding for individual artists has been uneven and, at times, nonexistent in recent years. It wasn’t always that way. But after a run of nearly 20 years, the City of Cincinnati’s Individual Artists Grants were eliminated in 2009. They made a brief comeback in 2011, but disappeared soon afterward.
Landsman hopes this program will change all that.
“Cities that invest in their people – all of them – are much more successful. They’re incredibly smart investments. They lead to empowered people, communities that are more attractive and healthier. So there is unquestionably a human benefit to all of this. There is also an economic benefit. Providing local artists with a $10,000 grant will pay for itself and then some, as more and more people are able to pursue their dreams and the communities around them are inspired to do more good.”
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