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With Future Of Performing Arts Uncertain, Boston Foundation Anoints New Class Of Live Arts Boston Grantees

Rappers, singers, theater troupes, a comedian — in many ways, the 2020 cohort of Live Arts Boston (LAB) grantees looks much as it has in the past. Its 60 recipients represent a diverse set of artists working across a range of performance-oriented disciplines. Each was awarded a grant of up to $15,000 to bring to fruition an original piece of work.

Gifted with the ability to hire collaborators and pay for venues, previous grantees often took the opportunity to bring to life their most ambitious ideas. But the announcement comes at a moment when the future of the performing arts has never been more tenuous.

When the Boston Foundation launched applications for its fourth round of LAB grants in January, concerns about the coronavirus reaching the United States had barely started to register. By the time the organization solicited a second round of applications from a group of finalists in March, the pandemic was in full swing.

In past years, the grant came with a requirement that grantees, whether they were writing a play or recording an album, mark the project with a public performance of some kind. That won’t be possible for most recipients, at least for a while. Boston Foundation interim director of arts and culture Eva Rosenberg said the organization considered converting the LAB grant from a project-based program into an emergency fund for artists. But in the end, they decided against it.

“We find that over half of the grant funds — in some years, closer to two-thirds — are paid out to artists,” Rosenberg said. In other words, grantees are using their funds to hire other artists. “So it’s actually providing people what a lot of folks said they want — which is work.” Recipients will be granted flexibility in executing their final projects. Some may choose to adapt their ideas to the internet, while others may decide to postpone a live performance.

This marks the LAB grant’s official debut as a permanent fixture, following a three-year pilot program and a nearly year-long assessment in partnership with Americans for the Arts. The program was launched in 2016 as a collaboration between the Boston Foundation and the Barr Foundation in response to Boston Foundation research that showed an underinvestment in Boston-area small arts organizations. (The ARTery is supported by a grant from the Barr Foundation, and I sat on a panel that helped select the second cohort of LAB grantees.) But over time, it evolved to become much more targeted toward individual artists and independent collectives.

As in past years, the project prioritizes artists of color, with 70% of grant-funded projects led by people of color. First-time grantees make up 67% of the cohort. Recipients work in a variety of disciplines, including dance, theater, spoken word and performance art. But by far the largest proportion of grantees — nearly half — are musicians.

Though the grant wasn’t designed with music in mind specifically, the shift has been organic, Rosenberg said. “It's a reminder of the incredible depths of the Boston music scene, including but far beyond our music schools or conservatories,” she said. “Just as some other kinds of practitioners are really critically looking at whether the nonprofit model serves them, I think musicians are looking at whether the for-profit model is serving them.”

With the live music industry indefinitely on hold, independent musicians find themselves in a more vulnerable position than ever. The same could be said of all the recipients of this year’s LAB grants.

Rosenberg said that, while the program would undoubtedly have to adapt to fit the changing needs of performing artists in a largely performance-free landscape, its mission remains the same. “We believe more than ever that creativity, that connectivity through shared experiences and other core values, are essential, and are trying to hold that belief while being less attached to what that looks or sounds like.”

Here are the 2020 Live Arts Boston grantees:

  • 3nity | Music
  • Abilities Dance Boston | Dance
  • Ana Masacote | Dance
  • Andrea Charalambous | Traditional and Folk Performing Arts
  • ANIKAYA/Wendy Jehlen | Dance
  • Anna Myer/beheard.world | Dance
  • Artists’ Theater of Boston | Theater
  • Ashton Lites | Dance
  • Asian American Playwright Collective (AAPC) | Dance
  • Beantown Lockers | Dance
  • Brain Arts Organization | Music
  • Brandie Blaze | Music
  • Chhandika, Chhandam Institute of Kathak Dance | Dance
  • Christiane Karam | Music
  • Claudio Ragazzi | Music
  • Cliff Notez |Music
  • Continuum Dance Project | Dance
  • Crystal Bi Wegner and Lily Xie | Performance Art
  • Danielle Abrams and MaryEllen Strom | Performance Art
  • David McMullin | Music
  • Dev Blair | Theater
  • Erini | Traditional and Folk Performing Arts
  • Fabiola Méndez | Music
  • George Abraham and Jess Rizkallah (with the Radius of Arab American Writers) | Spoken Word
  • Giuseppe Paradiso & Meridian 71 | Music
  • HairStory Project | Spoken Word
  • Ifé Franklin | Performance Art
  • Jade Sylvan | Opera/Musical Theater
  • Jeraul Mackey | Performance Art
  • Jussi Reijonen | Music
  • KAIROS Dance Theater | Performance Art
  • Kaovanny | Music
  • Karen Young/Older and Bolder | Performance Art
  • Kera Washington | Music
  • Lani Asuncion | Performance Art
  • Leo Eguchi | Music
  • Lily Xie | Performance Art
  • Lion's Jaw Festival | Dance
  • Luminarium Dance | Dance
  • Maria Finkelmeier | Music
  • Mark Redmond/Mandorla Music | Music
  • Mazumal | Music
  • Mehmet Ali Sanlikol | Music
  • Milkshaw Benedict | Music
  • Moe Pope | Music
  • Naseem Alatrash | Music
  • Ngoc-Tran Vu | Traditional and Folk Performing Arts
  • NorthStar Duo | Music
  • Oompa | Music
  • Perpetual Anastasia Adjwoa Baiswa Hayfron | Performance Art
  • Queen Mab, Inc. | Theater
  • Rachel Sumner | Music
  • Rafart | Music
  • Ralph Peterson | Music
  • Space for Action Team (Tiandra Ray, Edmar Colón, Peter Godart, Daniel Joseph) | Music
  • The Flavor Continues | Dance
  • UnBound Bodies Collective | Performance Art
  • Unitas Ensemble | Music
  • Yvette Janine Jackson | Music
  • Zayra Pola | Music

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Amelia Mason Twitter Arts And Culture Reporter
Amelia Mason is an arts and culture reporter and critic for The ARTery, WBUR's arts and culture team. She covers everything from fine art to television to the inner workings of the Boston music scene.

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