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Money for the arts; art by Black artists; Yaa Gyasi at Pen Pals

Thirty-eight NEA grants totaling $957,500 will come to Minnesota, supporting projects in several disciplines from dance to design, literary arts, music, theater and visual arts.

Northrop’s NEA grant will support online performances of Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE’s 35th anniversary program.
Northrop’s NEA grant will support online performances of Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE’s 35th anniversary program.
Photo by Julietta Cervantes

In the first round of its fiscal year 2021 funding, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has awarded $27.5 million to arts organizations and projects in communities throughout the United States and in Puerto Rico. Thirty-eight grants totaling $957,500 will come to Minnesota, supporting projects in several disciplines from dance to design, literary arts, music, theater and visual arts.

Grants to Minnesotans range in size from $10,000 to $60,000. Most went to arts organizations in the Twin Cities metro; some to nonprofits in Brainerd, Ely, Granite Falls, Saint Joseph and Winona. The largest grants were awarded to Children’s Theatre Company ($60,000), Graywolf Press ($60,000), Coffee House Press ($55,000), Minnesota Opera ($45,000), Milkweed Editions ($40,000), Mia ($40,000), Minnesota Orchestra ($40,000), and Northrop, for its dance series ($40,000), and the SPCO ($40,000). The Playwrights’ Center and VocalEssence will each receive $35,000; the Cedar, the Guthrie, Juxtaposition Arts, Camargo Foundation and the Minnesota Museum of American Art each $30,000.

Northrop’s Kari Schloner could have been speaking for everyone when she said in a statement, “We are grateful to the NEA for providing crucial funding during this time when arts organizations nationwide are facing existential threats in the wake of COVID-19.”

Although Donald Trump tried repeatedly during his presidency to zero out funding for the NEA, he was not successful. The person he appointed to lead the agency, Mary Anne Carter, had earlier been a policy adviser to Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Carter turned out not to be the disaster many expected, but a sincere and hard-working arts advocate. She resigned on Jan. 15, having made some changes and tried new things. During her tenure, the NEA even published a book, “Creativity and Persistence: Art that Fueled the Fight for Women’s Suffrage,” celebrating the passage of the 19th Amendment.

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Arts Midwest has begun a new granting program called the GIG Fund (for Grow, Invest, Gather). It will support Midwestern arts organizations as they rebuild and reimagine during the uncertainty caused by COVID-19. Grants of $2,500 will help organizations engage artists in community experiences as safely as possible.

Applications are due on May 3, 2021 (for projects happening July through December 2021) and Nov. 3, 2021 (for projects happening January through June, 2022). Arts Midwest will host an informational webinar on March 2 at 11 a.m. CST. Register here to attend.

Arts Midwest serves nonprofit organizations in the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.

Black History Month always shines a light on Black artists. But this year’s Black History Month seems less walled off than usual by Jan. 31 and March 1. The racial reckoning sparked by George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police in May brought art by Black artists to our streets. Arts and culture organizations across the Twin Cities vowed to become more just, diverse, equitable and aware. Both the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra started programming more music by Black composers. The Walker announced that it would divert $120,000 of its acquisitions funds to BIPOC artists of all disciplines. It feels like change is happening – not big enough, not fast enough or widespread enough, but happening.

V Streaming on demand: Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery: Three short films on the role of arts and artists in social justice movements. “Black Lives Matter – The Making of the Mural in Minneapolis” features the 16 artists who created the Black Lives Matter mural on Plymouth Ave. N. last July.  In “UN-HEARD,” performing artists from the Twin Cities express the emotions of the movement for racial justice, from anger and sadness to hope and resilience. “Save the Boards to Memorialize the Movement” follows Kenda Zellner-Smith and Leesa Kelly as they collect, store and document the plywood art boards created after the killing of George Floyd by police. Sponsored by the Friends of the Hennepin County Library. Free.

Kerry James Marshall "Untitled (Studio)" (2014)
Courtesy of HBO
Kerry James Marshall "Untitled (Studio)" (2014)
V Streaming on demand: HBO: “Black Art: In the Absence of Light.” Inspired by the late David Driskell’s landmark 1976 exhibition “Two Centuries of Black American Art,” this feature-length HBO documentary by Sam Pollard (“MLK/FBI,” “Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children,” “Goin’ Back to T-Town,” etc.) looks back at two centuries of art by African Americans and features some of the foremost Black visual artists working today. New to HBO and HBO Max, it premiered last night (Tuesday, Feb. 9).

V Streaming on demand: A new concert video collection honoring and celebrating Black artists. Eight new and recent performances by SPCO musicians of works by Ambrose Akinmusire, Billy Childs, Adolphus Hailstork, Tyson Davis and others, plus Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear playing his own piano quartet and a Minnesota Original segment on Minnesota composer PaviElle French, who partnered with the SPCO to compose her first symphony. Free.

Yaa Gyasi's second novel, “Transcendent Kingdom,” came out in Sept. 2020.
Photo by Michael Lionstar
Yaa Gyasi's second novel, “Transcendent Kingdom,” came out in Sept. 2020.
V Thursday (Feb. 11), 7:30 p.m.: Friends of the Hennepin County Library: Pen Pals: Yaa Gyasi. Born in Ghana, raised in Alabama, Gyasi is the author of the novel “Homecoming,” winner of the National Book Critics Circle’s award for best first book. Her second novel, “Transcendent Kingdom,” came out in September 2020. The Washington Post called “a book of blazing brilliance” and “entirely unlike ‘Homecoming.’” She’ll be joined by Shannon Gibney for what promises to be a fascinating conversation. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($45). If you’re wondering about the ticket price when many other author events are free, proceeds support the Hennepin County Library system, whose 41 branches serve the metro area.

 V Friday (Feb. 12), 7 p.m.: The Northwoods & Donald L. Jordan Reading Series: John Murillo and Donald L. Jordan. Jordan is a fiction writer and founder of the Donald L. Jordan Award for Literary Excellence at Columbus State University in Georgia. Murillo is a poet, Cave Canem fellow and NAACP Image Award nominee. This series is a collaboration between the Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference, held annually at Bemidji State University (online this year because COVID) and the creative writing program at Columbus State. Free, with registration required.