These 18 L.A. arts groups are getting urgent funding through Mike Kelley awards

A digital video still from Micaela Tobin's “Almost Songs of the Bakunawa."
A digital video still from Micaela Tobin’s “Almost Songs of the Bakunawa,” presented by Coaxial Arts Foundation. The organization is receiving a grant from the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts.
(Micaela Tobin / Coaxial Arts Foundation)

There is no vaccine for arts organizations struggling to survive 11 months into a debilitating pandemic, but the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts is offering what it hopes will be an injection of relief.

The foundation, which for the last five years has awarded artist project grants to local organizations, announces Thursday that it is pivoting for 2021. It will instead award $400,000 in organizational support grants to help L.A. County arts groups stay afloat during this time of unprecedented economic hardship, when most arts organizations have been shuttered for nearly a year.

“These organizations, nonprofits, are always having difficulty supporting their programs, even in the best of times,” foundation Executive Director Mary Clare Stevens, said. “Layer that with this great hit, which seems to be continuing — closures, cancellations, losing revenue — it’s really challenging. Our intention with these grants is to move into a place where we’re being as responsive as we can.”


The 18 grant recipients are small to midsize organizations with annual operating budgets of less than $5 million. They represent a cross-section of disciplines including painting, multimedia, performance, experimental music and poetry. Each will receive $10,000 to $30,000 in unrestricted funds to be used for day-to-day operations or programming.

“There seemed to be a great need in terms of basics — paying salaries, rent, utilities, just keeping the lights on,” Stevens said. “And to continue to support programming. I’ve been incredibly impressed with just how much resilience these organizations are showing in the face of all this.”

Elana Mann's "Listening as (a) Movement" at Side Street Projects.
Elana Mann’s “Listening as (a) Movement” installation, presented in 2013 at Side Street Projects in Pasadena.
(Side Street Projects / Elana Mann.)

The late Los Angeles artist Mike Kelley, who started the foundation, was a devoted supporter of small arts organizations, particularly experimental ones. Artist project grants typically are dispersed among eight or nine recipients from across the county and announced in mid-spring. Stevens said all of this year’s grantees embrace experimental practices, critical thinking, risk taking and provocation, “values that are informed by Mike Kelley’s life and practices.”

The foundation split the grant money among double the number of recipients this year and rolled the grant initiative out earlier because of the urgent need. Several grantees have received funding from the foundation before, such as the Los Angeles Poverty Department, the Vincent Price Art Museum Foundation and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics. Six organizations are new grantees, including the Center for Land Use Interpretation, Dublab and the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

Pieter Performance Space’s $15,000 grant is a lifeline, said the organization’s director, Dorothy Dubrule. Half the nonprofit’s income, prior to the pandemic, came from dance studio rentals. With arts organizations closed and performances canceled as of March, that revenue dried up; in August, the organization gave up its Lincoln Heights home and is now online only.

“It was sort of hold on to the studio or hold on to the organization,” Dubrule said. “It’s quite rare that there’s unrestricted operating support for arts nonprofits, it’s usually for programs. The support from the foundation means we can continue to pay our staff for several more months. Just the peace of mind knowing we have that for the future is crucial for us.”

Patrick Martinez's "America is for Dreamers,” at Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College, 2017.
Installation view of Patrick Martinez‘s “America is for Dreamers” at the Vincent Price Art Museum at East Los Angeles College in 2017.
(Monica Orozco)

Coaxial Arts Foundation, an artist-run space dedicated to experimental video, sound and performance that’s based in downtown L.A., depended heavily on ticket sales prior to the pandemic. In the COVID-era, it’s been livestreaming free performances and video art instead. And it continues to commission new projects — something its $20,000 grant will go toward.

“We give artists a micro-honorarium,” said Coaxial Director Eva Aguila, “and this allows us to continue helping artists make work. And since we’re not making money from ticket sales, it’s helping us keep our doors open.”

The Mike Kelley Foundation also supported the Artist Relief Fund, launched in April by seven national grant-making organizations, to help financially struggling artists through the pandemic.

In the foundation’s Thursday announcement, one recipient summed up the new organizational support grants simply:

“Relief funding of this nature,” said Sarah Williams, executive director of the Women’s Center for Creative Work, “is doing a lot to ensure a meaningful arts landscape on the other side of the pandemic.”

Here’s the list of this year’s organizational support grant recipients:

Center for Land Use Interpretation, Palms

Center for the Study of Political Graphics, Culver City

Coaxial Arts Foundation, Los Angeles

Clockshop, Elysian Valley

Echo Park Film Center, Echo Park

Los Angeles Filmforum, Hollywood

Future Roots Inc. DBA Dublab, Los Angeles

Human Resources LA Inc., Los Angeles

Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA), Los Angeles

Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Hollywood

Los Angeles Poverty Department, Los Angeles

Museum of Jurassic Technology, Palms

Pieter Performance Space, online only

Poetic Research Bureau, Chinatown

Side Street Projects, Pasadena

Society for the Activation of Social Spaces through Art and Sound, Los Angeles

Vincent Price Art Museum Foundation, Monterey Park

Women’s Center for Creative Work, Highland Park