South Coast Repertory is the first of seven Southern California arts organizations to detail its plans for its share of $3.65 million in grants that the James Irvine Foundation issued this month in hopes of prodding arts groups to go to the people rather than waiting for the people to come to them.
The San Francisco-based foundation is a leading force in the funding of California nonprofit arts groups, funneling more than $16.5 million to them annually. It recently tweaked its grant-making strategy to encourage new approaches.
The Irvine Foundation believes that the customary model of drawing spectators to established venues is shifting, and that arts groups will fare better and serve Californians better if they can also engage the public in art-making, or take their offerings into the community rather than remaining always ensconced in their usual theaters and exhibition spaces. Irvine Foundation grants will now be carrots to lead arts groups to think creatively along those lines.
South Coast Rep’s answer is “Dialogue/Dialogos SCR,” in which the Costa Mesa theater will adopt a play-making approach that seems to echo what L.A.’s Cornerstone Theater Company has been doing for years. Using a $600,000 Irvine Foundation grant, SCR will partner with Latino Health Access, a Santa Ana nonprofit, to enlist Latinos there as sources for the script of a new play, and as participants in the eventual production.
SCR announced Thursday that it would introduce the initiative in as-yet unscheduled community meetings in Santa Ana. The next step will be free workshops in which the participants will get theater training and be asked to help develop ideas and story lines for the play.
The anchor will be veteran Los Angeles playwright Jose Cruz Gonzalez, who’ll return to SCR as playwright-in-residence for the two-year project. Gonzalez launched South Coast Rep's innovative Hispanic Playwrights Project in 1986, but it was discontinued in 2004.
Gonzalez, who’s an associate artist with Cornerstone and a theater professor at Cal State Los Angeles, will write a script with community members’ input, and the workshops aim also to help SCR recruit and train an acting ensemble of about 12 members to perform it.
In the theater's announcement of the project, Gonzalez said that "Dialogue/Dialogos SCR" has the potential to "bring pride to a community that often remains in the shadows," while providing an arts experience that "can be life-changing" for the participants.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether SCR plans to include the play in one of its coming seasons, or offer it as a stand-alone show.
Additional $600,000 grants are going to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for “Cinema on the Move,” which the foundation describes as “a traveling cinema and film workshop program” aimed at Asians, Latinos and African Americans throughout Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire, and to Los Angeles Opera to build community operachoirs in East Los Angeles and present opera in neighborhood venues there.
The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana will get $520,000 for an arts participation project aimed at elderly, low-income Latinos and Vietnamese residents, and the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena will receive $225,000 to provide free arts instruction for children, teens and their families in neighborhood venues.
The San Diego Symphony will get $580,000 for “Your Song, Your Story,” which will engage people in “traditionally underserved neighborhoods” in a project culminating in a new multimedia work, and the San Diego Museum of Art will receive $527,000 to enlist people in creating public artworks for their neighborhoods.
The grants will be paid over two years, except for the Armory Center’s funding, which will be spread over three years.
The James Irvine Foundation began its new arts grant strategy in June, with a round of funding that included $425,000 for Cornerstone Theater Company to teach its play-making methods statewide; $300,000 to continue a mentorship program for professional choreographers in Southern California that’s run by the San Francisco-based Margaret Jenkins Dance Studio; $225,000 to L.A.’s East West Players for new play development; and $200,000 to the Pasadena Symphony for “Random Acts of Music,” a program of “unexpected classical music performances” in libraries, banks, shopping malls and community centers.
The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum got $180,000 for an “immersive theater” program in the Lancaster/Palmdale area; Diavolo Dance Theatre received $175,000 for “L.A. Flies,” a series of free dance workshops and performances targeted at low-income neighborhoods; and $150,000 went to Outfest for “Fusion Lab,” a filmmaking program aimed at gay, lesbian and transgender people of color that will take place in temporary L.A. storefront venues.
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