San Francisco Chronicle
Grants to help Bay Area arts groups pivot
The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is perhaps best known in Bay Area arts world for its dedication to the white whale of nonprofit funding: general operating support, which lets organizations use funds however they see fit.
But the foundation announced on Monday, Sept. 20, that it is adding a one-time increase of $17 million to its annual $20 million allocation to the performing arts. These new Adaptation Grants must be used, as the name suggests, to help organizations make some of their most promising pandemic-era adaptations permanent.
“These Adaptation Grants are intended to help organizations work from where they are now — these incredible programs and pivots and ideas that they've had to do out of necessity — and figure out what can and should stay for the future,” Emiko Ono, who directs the foundation's performing arts program, told The Chronicle.
“They're really intended to absorb the risk that comes with change. Planning, testing is inherently messy,” she added.
The 34 awardees plan to use the grants for a variety of projects. San Francisco's Golden Thread Productions, whose work focuses on the Middle East, is investing in digital theater as well as in staff, in the form of health care and transportation stipends, according to Managing Director Michelle Mulholland.
In San Jose, MACLA (Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana), which works in visual and performing arts, literature and arts education, is using the funds to create the organization's first retirement program and to prototype a new position for a performing artist in residence, whose time will be divided between curating and making their own art.
Most of MACLA's staff is in their late 20s to early 30s, and the organization is predominantly Latino, said Executive Director Anjee Helstrup-Alvarez.
“Our folks don't necessarily come from generational wealth. It's not like someone can support them to be in this career path,” she said, of the choice to invest in staffers' careers.
Performing Arts Workshop — a 56-year-old San Francisco nonprofit that works with young people in forms as varied as dance, spoken word, digital media, music, drumming and poetry — intends to use the grant to create two new positions to administrate its
new venue, the Powerhouse.
The former Excelsior district streetcar barn and powerhouse was damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake and sat unused for years. Currently, the venue’s management, including rentals, falls on existing staff, whose duties were already full-time before the company moved in to the new space in 2019.
The Powerhouse is the organization’s first permanent space.
“District 11 is the district that has the least amount of dedicated support for arts, whether that be space, programs, funding,” said Neela Gentile, Performing Arts Workshop’s interim executive director. “So it’s exciting to be there.”
Other recipients include CounterPulse, the Imaginists, El Teatro Campesino, Brava! for Women in the Arts and Destiny Arts Center.
In choosing grantees, Ono said, Hewlett sought to honor the eclecticism of the Bay Area.
“Not all cultural expressions are equally valued by our wider society,” Ono said. “We really wanted to pay attention to those organizations that are culturally and artistically rich in spite of historic and current disparities.”
The foundation also hopes to broaden the perception and the reality of who gets to make, witness and learn about art.
“Opportunities to create and participate in the arts are not evenly distributed,” Ono continued. She wants more people to think, “I can go into the arts. This won’t be risky for me. I can see a career path for myself.”