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The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven recently unveiled a new grant program with more than half a million dollars in support of artists working toward racial justice.

On Sept. 13, the Foundation’s Racial Equity and Creative Healing program awarded 16 local arts projects a total of $583,000 in grant money. Projects selected include mural productions, a cultural dance class, healing retreat series for Black men, and a hip-hop radio platform. In partnership with the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, REACH prioritized projects that aim to help the community heal from the COVID-19 pandemic and renew conversations on racism. The organization will provide two years of funding for each project.

“As other nonprofits started to recover, ours were still left out… so we wanted to recognize a way to be able to support artists in their recovery from COVID,” said Jackie Downing, director of grantmaking and nonprofit support. “Also, we saw the opportunity for artists to be the driver … around having conversations and understanding in racial equity and healing.”

While the Community Foundation supplied funding, the Arts Council managed the selection process. The council aimed to represent community artists inclusively by allowing individual artists to apply. According to Daniel Fitzmaurice, executive director of the Arts Council, this process departs from traditional grant selection methods, which focus on awarding dollars to established groups.

He also explained that the council tried to make the application as accessible as possible.

“We made sure that everything was translated in English and Spanish … the advisory team really looked and made sure that we were reaching different parts of the region,” Fitzmaurice said. “We [were] using Google forms, which are very simple, pretty accessible to people. We also [provided] people with a PDF and a Word document of the same thing.”

One recipient of the grant was #ThaTeam podcast, which is hosted by four friends who are all women of color. According to co-host Rebekah Moore, the podcast is a platform for people to share their perspectives on weighty issues while maintaining a friendly environment. #ThaTeam will use its $44,000 REACH grant to fund a 10-month training program for community youth interested in podcasting. The program will culminate in participants hosting biweekly podcasts and traveling to New York City to experience larger broadcasting systems. 

Denise Page, founder of the Ubuntu Storytellers program, also received $44,000 from grant funding. Page explained that Ubuntu Storytellers hosts workshops on anti-racism, social equity and diversity, with members of the African diaspora opening each workshop with personal stories. Additionally, the program sometimes hosts storytelling concert shows for Black and brown artists. According to Page, REACH funding makes it possible for Ubuntu Storytellers to implement the goals it had long had.

“I would not be able to do this show without that grant…  [it] allows me to guarantee that tellers will be paid, and by selling tickets, hey, I might get to cover my costs,” Page said. “And it also gives me the opportunity to offer [the program] to potential clients, because the workshops are really my goal.”

Another REACH project is the Black Haven Film Festival, which hosted its second annual festival on Sept. 18. Black Haven Executive Director Salwa Abdussabur said that the festival is the first of its kind in New Haven. Abdussabur added that the event is a space for local Black creatives to tell their stories, helping to dismantle institutional racism in the arts. While the festival was held virtually this year, Black Haven plans to bring its mission to full-scale next year with an in-person event, thanks to its $44,000 REACH grant.

“I’ve been so grateful for the community and arts leaders who supported us in making this happen, because we need a radical redistribution of wealth so that cultural creators can continue to make art that is relevant,” Abdussabur said.

Ubuntu Storytellers will hold a virtual storytelling event called “Discovery” on Oct. 9.

Megan Vaz is the former city desk editor. She previously covered Yale-New Haven relations and Yale unions, additionally serving as an audience desk staffer.