Four St. Louis arts organizations will use $250,000 in grants to build audiences

High school students creating drawings inspired by dance. Teenagers learning the ins and outs of the professional art world. ASL interpreters making short operas by composers of color more accessible.

These are some of the programs supported by a $250,000 grant from the PNC Foundation.

The charitable arm of PNC Bank awarded $75,000 each to the Black Rep and St. Louis ArtWorks, and $50,000 each to Dance St. Louis and Opera Theatre of St. Louis. The money will help the nonprofits make programming more inclusive and to develop new audiences.

“It comes at a time when many corporations have been pulling away from the arts. So it’s a breath of fresh air, and I hope other corporations will see the benefit of it,” said Michael Uthoff, artistic director of Dance St. Louis.

Uthoff’s organization will direct its grant toward a performance by the New York-based Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and new educational programming related to the prestigious dance company’s appearance.

Students at six St. Louis high schools will work with art teachers to create responses to Ailey’s work. This will augment existing dance programs Dance St. Louis offers at those schools. Students will also receive free tickets to the March performance by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.

A 2020 appearance by the predominantly Black dance troupe drew a larger number of African American audience members than Dance St. Louis events typically attract, Uthoff said. He’d like to see this year’s event inspire some more-diverse audiences in the future. Uthoff and Executive Director Richard Dee are white men.

An instructor from the Dance Theatre of Harlem works with high school students as part of an arts residency provided by Dance St. Louis. A grant from the PNC Foundation will help Dance St. Louis augment its residencies with additional programming for students.

Dance St. Louis

An instructor from the Dance Theatre of Harlem works with high school students as part of an arts residency provided by Dance St. Louis. A grant from the PNC Foundation will help Dance St. Louis augment its residencies with additional programming for students.

The Black Rep will continue its Phoenix Rising performance series, which began in June with events at the Pulitzer Arts Center and National Blues Museum. The series included several dance performances exploring elements of African American life and culture, and a salute to Bessie Smith by vocalist Denise Thimes at the museum.

One three-part dance event included performances inside the Pulitzer; at Park-Like, the foundation’s outdoor location across the street; and finally in the open-air Spring Church nearby.

“It’s about doing unconventional work in unconventional spaces,” said Black Rep founder and artistic director Ron Himes. This weekend, he’ll be saluted with the Visionary Leader Award by the Association for Theatre in Public Education at its annual conference in Austin, Texas.

The Phoenix Rising series will continue in September, Himes said, with more performances away from the theater’s home base at Washington University.

“What we hope is that it will help us to expose our work to new audiences and hopefully be able to, like a Pied Piper, bring those audiences back to the main stage,” he said.

St. Louis ArtWorks will use its grant money to fund a yearlong apprenticeship program for local teenagers. The apprenticeships include art instruction plus practical lessons about working as a professional artist.

Participating students learn how to make art in different disciplines, work on assorted job skills and practice life skills like obtaining financial literacy and methods for maintaining good mental health.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis will improve accessibility over the next two years for performances in its existing New Works Collective series. An outside panel of creative professionals appointed by Opera Theatre leaders, mostly artists of color who primarily work outside the field of opera, commission three short operas for the program per year.

PNC Foundation grant money will go toward ASL interpretation of the New Works Collective performances, audio descriptions and online streaming for people unable to make it to the theater.

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