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The Creative Work Fund is awarding 16 new grants totaling $699,000 to Northern California artists who are collaborating with local nonprofit organizations to create new works in traditional arts and visual arts. These grants celebrate the role of artists as problem solvers and the making of art as a profound contribution to intellectual inquiry and to the strengthening of communities.

When finished, the funded projects will present a fresh exploration of the biblical Song of Songs; investigations into Salinas’s Chinatown and the sugar industry in Hawai’i and in Crockett, California; vocal music and dance of Afghanistan; a Tibetan Kongpo Losar Festival; a large-scale mural exploring racial equity efforts in Oakland; an outdoor installation meant to foster contemplation and healing among members of the South Bay’s immigrant communities; and more.

“The 2019 Creative Work Fund grant recipients include artists who are looking to the past — revisiting and sharing traditions from such nations as Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Tibet,” says program director Frances Phillips. “Other artists are taking traditional tools, such as the Vietnamese Dan Tranh (zither) and the 19th Century daguerreotype process, and applying them to the expression of contemporary contexts. Several of the 2019 artist recipients have dedicated themselves to social activism — bringing caring, humane treatment to community members without homes, sharing stories of immigrants, or recognizing the community service of those who have lived with HIV or disabilities for many years.”

Grants Awarded

Since 1994, the Creative Work Fund has contributed $13.7 million to advance art-making by Northern California artists working in a variety of disciplines. The grants, which range from $15,000 to $45,000, are highly competitive and are recommended to the fund by committees of distinguished panelists.The 2019 Creative Work Fund grantees in Traditional Arts are:

Tibetan elder, singer, and dancer Bhalu Bhaloo is collaborating with Chaksampa Tibetan Dance and Opera Company to create a traditional Kongpo Losar Festival, and record and share the previously undocumented and at-risk performing heritage of the Kongpo region of Tibet.

 Cantor Jewlia Eisenberg is collaborating with The Contemporary Jewish Museum to develop and present Fierce as Death, exploring the ancient biblical Song of Songs through havruta (a practice of study in small groups); present workshops; and perform the piece in the Museum’s Yud Gallery in spring 2021.

Ethio-jazz artist Meklit Hadero is collaborating with poet/songwriter Alemtsehay Wedajo and Women’s Audio Mission to record, produce, and present a new collection of Ethiopian folk songs titled When the Compass Points Towards Home.

Philippine choreographer Sydney Loyola is collaborating with The Filipino American Development Foundation on Sayaw sa Ilaw — Dancing in the Light, rooted in a Philippine folkloric dance tradition and honoring the indigenous deity of fire, Kanla-on, who is believed to live in an active volcano and who appears in both male and female forms. The work will culminate as part of the Parol Festival in the South of Market.

Ustad Farida Mahwash, known as the “Voice of Afghanistan,” is collaborating with Ballet Afsaneh to create Safar — Journey (working title), a tribute through music and dance to the many influences found in Mahwash’s music, including classical and folk songs, and Sufi poetry.

Nimely Napla, former director of the Liberian National Cultural Troupe, is collaborating with Dimensions Dance Theater to create an original multidisciplinary performance titled Dai Zoe Bush — The Breaking of the Poro and Sande Bush, incorporating African American cultural practices with Liberian storytelling and bringing together professional performers from Liberia, Dimensions’ professional company, and young participants in Dimensions’ Rites of Passage program.

Multidisciplinary artist Fely Tchaco, who is of Gouro heritage, is collaborating with Diamano Coura West African Dance to create an original and traditional music, dance, and drama production, The Legend of Zaouli, based on a tradition of the Gauro people from Ivory Coast and celebrating African women’s beauty and power.

Composer and multi-instrumentalist Van-Anh Vo is collaborating with Vietnamese American Non-Governmental Organization Network, singer/songwriter Mahsa Vahdat, musician and hip-hop artist Demone Carter, Blood Moon Orchestra, and others to create Songs of Strength, sharing experiences of immigrants from war-torn countries that outwardly suppress women and immigrants.

The 2019 Creative Work Fund grantees in Visual Arts are:

Sofia Cordova is partnering with the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco and its Chinese Culture Center to create dawn_chorus iii, exploring and presenting the histories of a group of female Chinese immigrant refugees through a long-form video and installation at the Center’s gallery and in related exhibits at sites in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

 Binh Danh is collaborating with the Visual and Public Art Department at the California State University, Monterey Bay, to create I Am Chinatown Salinas ? Yo Soy Chinatown Salinas, a participatory project in which the artist will use 19th century photographic processes to document Salinas’s Chinatown from social, cultural, and anthropological perspectives.

 Artist and organizer Leslie Dreyer is collaborating with the Coalition on Homelessness and its clients to focus on stories of possessions taken from people through sweeps of homeless encampments in San Francisco. The artist and her collaborators are creating pop-up exhibits, public dialogues, and community actions as well as the book Stolen Belonging: A Collective Reclamation.

 Multimedia artist Suzanne Husky is collaborating with Earth Activist Training to create the lost language of plants, a series of podcasts geared towards deepening humans’ intuitive relationships with plants.

Hector Dionicio Mendoza is collaborating with Montalvo Arts Center to create a space of healing, contemplation, memory, and collaboration titled Creando Espacio/Place Making: Immigration, Rituals, and Transitoriness, an outdoor installation that addresses the loneliness and isolation often felt by members of immigrant communities.

 Mural artist Desi Mundo is collaborating with Greenlining Institute to create an eight-story mural in downtown Oakland titled Green Line to Freedom that combines photorealism and abstract imagery to tell a story of overcoming barriers to equity. A short documentary film of the project also will be produced.

 Multidisciplinary artist Joan Osato, Tanya Orellana, and Campo Santo are collaborating to create Last Days at Pu’unene Mill, an exhibition/installation and community-engagement project studying the distinctive history of sugar through research in Maui, Hawai’i and Crockett, California.

 Artists Sharon Siskin and Nancer LeMoins and residents of Oakland’s Providence House (part of Providence Health & Human Services) are collaborating on a 15-month social practice art project that focuses on creating portraits and illustrating stories of community service by residents of Providence House, which provides housing to people on fixed incomes who are living with HIV/AIDS and other disabilities.

The 2019 grant selection process called upon assistance from distinguished panelists and advisors.

2019 Traditional Arts panelists: Lindsie Bear, senior program director for the Native Cultures Fund at the Humboldt Area Foundation; Dr. Yvonne Daniel, professor emerita of Dance and Afro-American Studies, Smith College; Lily Kharrazi, special projects manager, Alliance for California Traditional Arts; Dr. Jennifer C. Post, senior lecturer in Ethnomusicology, School of Music, University of Arizona; and Dr. Ricardo D. Trimillos, professor emeritus in Asian Studies, School of Pacific & Asian Studies, and in Ethnomusicology, Music Department, University of Hawai’i, Manoa. Choreographer, dancer, and vocalist Emiko Saraswati Susilo served as an additional advisor.

2019 Visual Arts panelists were: Deena Chalibi, visiting scholar, Arts Research Center, University of California, Berkeley; Suzanne Cockrell, associate professor, California College of the Arts; Paul Ha, director, List Visual Arts Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Johnny Irrizary, director, Center for Hispanic Excellence: La Casa Latina, University of Pennsylvania; and Diana Nawi, independent curator and co-artistic director, Prospect.5. Artists E.G. Crichton, Edward (Scape) Martinez, and Weston Teruya served as additional advisors.