And now the work begins!

Photo: Monica Valenzuela/Hart and Sol Photography

I’m excited to announce that Staten Island Arts has awarded more than $300,000 in grants through it’s Expanding Audiences and Cultural Participation Initiative. The initiative, which I first wrote about in a blog post last year, was launched in June 2017 to develop new strategies for audience development that incorporate the needs and interests of Staten Island’s growing diverse population, including immigrants from Sri Lanka, Eastern, Europe, Russia, Africa and Mexico. My team Toni Hendrix, Richard Pelzer II and I helped SIA’s executive director Elizabeth Bennett launch the initiative, and facilitated workshops and one-on-one consultations with leaders of the participating organizations.

The funding for this initiative marks the largest pool of regrant funding available in the history of Staten Island Arts and has been provided by the generosity of a cohort of prominent New York City-based foundations: New York Community Trust, the Altman Foundation, The Staten Island Foundation, Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and Time Warner. Richmond County’s cultural organizations also provided support. The grants were awarded to 10 Staten Island-based arts organizations whose proposals for new projects were selected during a competitive review process by a panel of distinguished arts professionals.The grantees and their projects are:

Alice Austen House: Intergenerational Story Telling through Photography—The Alice Austen House will conduct a series of intergenerational photographic storytelling workshops focusing on LGBTQIA communities from Staten Island and Manhattan.

Art Lab, Inc.:Colors of the Carnival—Traditions and Culture of Mazatlán. Art Lab is planning a pilot program that will celebrate Mexican cultural heritage traditions through a carnival-themed gallery exhibit and art workshops serving the Spanish-speaking community of Staten Island, working in conjunction with the organization La Colmena.

Makerpark Radio: Open Airwaves!—A music celebration, Open House, and Concert Series. Maker Park Radio will launch a combined programming and marketing initiative to reach African American and Latino American audiences.

Staten Island Philharmonic:. United in Harmony—Staten Island Philharmonic teaching artists will prepare developmentally disabled adults from On Your Mark to sing as a chorus in three Philharmonic concerts.

Staten Island Shakespearean Theatre Company: The Port Richmond Initiative/Developing Audience and DiversityStaten Island Shakespearean Theatre will create an after-school theatre education program to connect with young residents in Port Richmond, and to develop workshops in collaboration with the neighborhood’s Mexican/Latinx communities.

Staten Island Children Museum: Open Museum!—Staff from all levels of the Staten Island Children Museum will participate in professional development trainings to improve cultural competencies in order to work with a wide and diverse audience.

Staten Island Historical Society/Historic Richmond Town: Building Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Historic Richmond TownHistoric Richmond Town is planning to hold diversity, equity, and inclusion training for board, staff, and key stakeholders.

Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences (dba Staten Island Museum): Black Lunch Table at Staten Island Museum–The Staten Island Museum will host Black Lunch Table, an artist-led, participant-driven, community building initiative, in free public programs that foster critical dialogue and amplify the voices of people of color.

Staten Island Makerspace: SIMakerSpace Parent Creative AllianceStaten Island MakerSpace will launch SI MakerSpace Parent Creative Alliance, a new initiative to provide low-income and immigrant families with access to MakerSpace’s facilities in order to learn new skills, work on creative projects, or build their own small businesses.

Universal Temple of the Arts: Expanding Arts Access for Residents in Staten Island Public Housing DevelopmentsUniversal Temple of the Arts will develop a strategic marketing and community outreach campaign to engage underserved, low-income community residents through arts services.

Regarding the initiative effort, Ms. Bennett said: “We at the arts council are heartened by the interest and enthusiasm shown for this initiative during the workshop phase and throughout the application process. The learning we’ve seen and experienced has been tremendous.”

I love the expanse and uniqueness of the awarded programs and the diverse communities they will reach, including LGBTQIA youth; African-Americans; developmentally disabled adults and the Mexican community. In addition, the focus of 8 of the 10 projects is supporting racial diversity, either through programming, expanded outreach, change in marketing strategy, or training in diversity/equity/inclusion practices.This offers a great opportunity to impact the cultural landscape of Staten Island. In addition, all of the funded projects are committed to accomplishing the goal of creating greater access for diverse audiences to cultural activities on Staten Island. Recognizing that building equity, diversity and inclusion costs money, the funders have provided a launching pad for these organizations to begin to change the dynamics of reaching out to invite and envelop a broader, more expansive and representative audience; an audience that represents all of Staten Island.

Last week, there was a “meet and greet” with the grantees and I am inspired by their determined spirit to accomplish their goals. While some acknowledged that their efforts are an enormous task, others announced, “We will do it!”  Several projects will hire a local project manager to help navigate these new relationships with the community and to foster cultural sensitivity. Over the next year, my team and I will continue to engage with the grantees, supporting their efforts to develop tangible and effective audience development programs.

The Staten Island Arts audience development initiative is a precedent-setting effort that provides the tools and funding to advance diversity in the arts and the cultural community of Staten Island. I am inspired and excited to work with the grantees to help them actualize their plans for diversifying their audiences.We have work to do—building the infrastructure; developing the programs; engaging the target audience; producing the programs, and evaluating success. Even more significant, it can provide a template for funders and Arts Councils throughout the country for building equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, specifically for arts organizations.

As we achieve benchmarks in Staten Island, I will keep you posted. In the interim, Lean In!