How 90 LA Art Groups Spend COVID Aids

Amanda Gorman, the national youth poetry award winner who electrified audiences with her reading during President Biden’s inauguration, spent her teenage years writing in magazines that she got for free at WriteGirl workshops.

Now that Gorman, 23, is a best-selling author, she is increasing the visibility of the Los Angeles-based mentoring program that supported her efforts, including her successful application to Harvard. (Of WriteGirl’s 55 to 60 graduates each year, 100% have attended college.)

And yet, despite the visibility Gorman has given WriteGirl, the nonprofit has still found itself in a sea of ​​community and arts organizations struggling to tread water during the pandemic.

Many groups struggled with funding and fundraising while suffering from identity crises that emerged when organizational missions to conduct or group gatherings were made impossible.

Participate in the LA Arts Recovery Fund, which provided $ 36.1 million in post-pandemic reconstruction grants to 90 local small to medium-sized cultural organizations in May. Among those who received the one-time scholarships was WriteGirl, which received $ 272,000.

WriteGirl looks after around 400 teenage girls each year and supports their writing through workshops and mentoring with professional women writers. The grant will be used to help migrate workshops and mentoring meetings online in a fun and engaging way for the TikTok generation. Virtual events mean you don’t have to rent space or provide catering, but you have to pay for Canva, Zoom, Mailchimp, and more.

“We use 14 different types of technology and they all charge up and you need people to help with all of that,” said Keren Taylor, executive director and founder of WriteGirl.

Gorman has inspired girls who otherwise would not have found their way to the program, Taylor said, and the scholarship will ensure these fresh voices get the support they need as they progress through the program.

The LA Arts Recovery Fund grants range from $ 5,000 to $ 2 million and are spread over two or three years. The scholarship holders specialize in art education (23%), theater (18%), visual arts (17%), music (14%), media art (8%), dance (6%), literary arts (3%) and conservation ( 2%); the remaining 9% were classified as multidisciplinary.

The fund, initiated by the J. Paul Getty Trust and administered by the California Community Foundation, is supported by the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, the LA County Department of Arts and Culture, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The Ford Foundation’s America’s Cultural Treasures regional initiative – to support black, Latin American, Asian, and indigenous arts organizations – funded 17 organizations, including Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural in the San Fernando Valley and the Robey Theater Company in downtown Los Angeles. The former receives $ 450,000 and the latter receives $ 193,000.

“This funding will support our executives, cover some of our overheads such as rent and utilities, and help with programs where funding is insufficient,” said Michael Centeno, Executive Director of Tia Chucha, via email.

Centeno added that due to the pandemic, the center had to close for most of 2020 and all programming went virtual. The organization’s careful return to personal activities this fall includes free and low-cost workshops in photography, music, cooking, community organization and the arts, as well as a youth mentoring program designed to help underserved communities.

Ben Guillory in the Robey Theater Company production of “Dr. DuBois and Miss Ovington. “

(Matthew Leland)

The Robey Theater Company also has its programming virtual for most of 2020 and plans to keep it going until the April premiere of a Levy Lee Simon-commissioned play “In Heated Discussion”.

Producer Ben Guillory said the grant money came just in time for the 27-year-old company, which took its inspiration from the late singer, activist and actor Paul Robeson.

“Our mission is to produce and develop pieces about the global Black experience and to reinvent black classics,” said Guillory. “From my point of view, we haven’t been a theater for two years because we haven’t produced any plays.”

The loss that Robey theater performers felt in not gathering together and doing work for the stage was partly offset by zoom meetings, readings, and acting workshops. A playwright lab worked particularly well online, Guillory said, because it eased some writers’ difficulty commuting to downtown LA in early July. One of these pieces will be Robey’s fall production.

Unless another variant of COVID-19 raises its ugly head, 2022 could look like a pretty normal year, with a spring and fall production, plus a three-day festival of five plays over the summer. The company rents a few booths in the Los Angeles Theater Center and only has to pay for one stage when working on a production.

“The relief has helped us stay on a very tight budget and of course our general overheads and expenses for most of the events we created through Zoom,” said Guillory.

Another organization supported by the Recovery Fund is the Eagle Rock-based Santa Cecilia Orchestra, which describes itself as the only professional symphony orchestra in the country with a specific commitment to the Latino community. The full group consists of approx. 80 people, mostly musicians, with three full-time employees and a few artistic part-time employees. The orchestra organizes around 10 concerts per season and reaches around 16 schools per year.

Conductor and founder of Santa Cecilia Sonia Marie De León de Vega.

Conductor and founder of Santa Cecilia Sonia Marie De León de Vega.

(Orchestra Santa Cecilia)

Founder and conductor Sonia Marie De León de Vega said that during each show, 85% to 95% of the audience are Latinos. The vast majority of the shows and programs are free.

De León de Vega started playing the piano at the age of 5 and grew up playing classical music. Like many colored people, she was impressed at a young age by how few people looked like them at concerts, both on and off the stage.

“So I bought it to our churches and gave free concerts and introduced it to the adults through their children,” she said. “Soon the children begged their parents to go to these concerts.”

Since its inception in 1992, Santa Cecilia has guided more than 190,000 children through its arts and learning center, run a summer camp for art days in a two-building enclosed courtyard, and a music mentorship program for middle and high school students.

The summer arts program went dark in 2020, and Santa Cecilia has repaid any parent payments or deposits made for the program. The orchestra has had zero earned income since March 2020. It operated largely from a rainy days fund that it had meticulously saved. The $ 130,000 Rebuild Fund grant, paid out over two years, is critical to helping the orchestra get back into pre-pandemic shape. The money will cover general operating expenses, pay staff, and compensate musicians who are professional union members.

Santa Cecilia gave small concerts through Zoom during the pandemic and was hoping to return to live performances in September before the Delta variant ended that plan. De León de Vega has now said that the orchestra has its sights set on January for this happy moment.

“I knew from the start that if anyone knew how to face this pandemic, it would be people in the arts,” she said. “I knew we would make it and that everyone in the art would be the second answer.”

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