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Press Released: 15 Feb 2019

OPERA America Announces Recipients of its New Civic Practice Grants

Supported by the Opera Fund

A Total of $180,000 Awarded to Seven Companies

OPERA America, the national service organization for opera and the nation’s leading champion for American opera, is pleased to announce the recipients of its first-ever Civic Practice Grants, supported by OPERA America’s Opera Fund endowment.

Civic Practice Grants help U.S. Professional Company Members of OPERA America and their partners develop new or deeper relationships within their communities — leading to mutual understanding, sustained collaboration, and shared projects and programming.

Grants of up to $30,000 each, awarded on a biennial basis, support opera companies’ efforts to learn more about civic priorities within their communities, to develop relationships with leading arts and non-arts organizations and their leaders, and to discover and deliver services that strengthen their communities, as well as the visibility and trust of the opera company within it.

A total of $180,000 was awarded to seven companies: Chicago Opera Theater, Houston Grand Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Minnesota Opera, Opera Omaha, San Francisco Opera and The Santa Fe Opera. (See below for descriptions of the funded projects.)

“With Civic Practice Grants, we see a great opportunity to use the art form’s unique qualities to address local civic priorities through authentic, mutually beneficial partnerships,” stated OPERA America President/CEO Marc A. Scorca. “These new grants help opera companies find ways to enhance their real and perceived value as cultural citizens in communities throughout the country.”

An independent panel of experts reviewed a total of 36 applications for Civic Practice Grants. The panelists were Leah D. Barto, nonprofit consultant and former director of learning and leadership, OPERA America; Kayhan Irani, Emmy Award-winning writer, performer and Theatre of the Oppressed trainer; Melanie Powell-Robinson, diversity consultant; Logan Phillips, poet, performer and arts consultant; and Gus Schulenburg, director of communications, Theatre Communications Group.

Information about the next round of Civic Practice Grants will be available in summer 2020 at operaamerica.org/Grants.


Civic Practice Grants build upon OPERA America’s efforts in recent years to advance opera companies’ connections with and service to their communities. In 2013 and 2014, OPERA America’s Strategy Committee examined pressing issues challenging the field and identified an acute need to increase opera’s public value through reciprocal relationships — with both arts and non-arts organizations — and to use opera’s creative assets to address local priorities in an authentic manner. Although several pioneering companies had designed and implemented successful civic engagement initiatives, there were still significant gaps in knowledge, experience and research across the field.

In 2015, OPERA America made civic impact the theme of its annual conference in Washington, D.C., and with support from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2016, it created a Civic Action Group. This two-year initiative brought together staff from several operas companies, as well as experts in creative placemaking and community-based arts, to share approaches for serving communities through opera. To make the Civic Action Group’s learnings available to the entire field, OPERA America launched a resource hub at operaamerica.org/CivicPractice, featuring interviews with members of the Civic Action Group and an “Introduction to Civic Practice” primer.

With continued support from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2018, OPERA America initiated a series of regional Civic Practice Workshops, bringing together opera company representatives to examine how they have integrated civic practice into their organizational operations and created and sustained community partnerships. The first workshop was hosted by Austin Opera, and additional workshops will be held throughout 2019 in Orlando, Memphis and Omaha.

For its annual conference this June in San Francisco, OPERA America has made civic practice one of three key themes to be explored, with sessions focusing on topics such as community advisory panels, ROI on civic practice, new generations of board members, and creating safe spaces for underrepresented communities. A plenary session on civic practice will be moderated by Jane Chu, former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts.

About the Opera Fund

OPERA America’s long tradition of supporting the creation and development of new works led to the formation of its Opera Fund endowment, which allows OPERA America to sustain a number of grant programs. Since the Opera Fund’s inception, OPERA America has granted nearly $13 million to assist companies with the expenses associated with creating and developing new works, as well as related audience-engagement initiatives. The Opera Fund has supported such works as Akhnaten (Philip Glass), Bel Canto (Jimmy López), Cold Sassy Tree (Carlisle Floyd), Elmer Gantry (Robert Aldridge), JFK (David T. Little), Little Women (Mark Adamo), Moby-Dick (Jake Heggie), Nixon in China (John Adams), Silent Night (Kevin Puts) and A Streetcar Named Desire (André Previn).

The Opera Fund was launched by the National Endowment for the Arts, and it is funded by The Helen F. Whitaker Fund, Lee Day Gillespie, Lloyd and Mary Ann Gerlach, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The George Cedric Metcalf Charitable Foundation.

2019 Civic Practice Grant Recipients

Chicago Opera Theater

Chicago Opera Theater is expanding existing partnerships with several refugee service organizations in order to provide admission and facilitate additional support for refugees to attend and enjoy the opera. Engaging refugees in this way and offering an access point to opera (and the arts) can help build a base for their future cultural lives in the city.

Houston Grand Opera

In partnership with Houston’s refugee service organizations, Houston Grand Opera’s “We Belong” is designed to serve the city’s growing refugee population. Teaching artists will help generations of refugee families communicate with each other and their new neighbors through storytelling workshops, family-friendly performances and the creation of original works of art. “We Belong” will share the stories of these new Americans and send the message that Houston welcomes them home.

Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Urban League have partnered to present EmpowerYouth!, a multidisciplinary afterschool program that will culminate in the performance of a fully staged, youth-centric opera. African-American high school students will meet weekly after school to work with professional artists to develop skills in areas such as scriptwriting, singing, acting and dance. Students will share personal stories, which will become the basis for the libretto of the new work.

Minnesota Opera

Minnesota Opera will build its capacity to develop a civic practice with the local Hmong-American community. Through a conversation series co-created with project partners, the company will listen and learn what are the pressing needs of this community and what of its own expertise and resources might be a support.

Opera Omaha

Opera Omaha is undergoing a transformation from an opera company that primarily produces mainstage operas, to a significant cultural resource for the community. With a focus on civic practice and community-engaged work through its Holland Community Opera Fellowship, Opera Omaha will utilize its grant to build upon its civic-practice base to expand partnerships and serve more people in the community who have limited access to the arts.

San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera will expand its partnership with two leading social service organizations addressing homelessness in San Francisco — Compass Family Services and Community Housing Partnership — with assistance and facilitation by 5th House Ensemble, a Chicago-based music and civic practices organization. Support from the grant will help develop programming that integrates with both partners’ existing programs and services and with SFO’s mainstage programs.

The Santa Fe Opera

The Santa Fe Opera seeks to institute an annual event featuring the culture of the Native American tribes of New Mexico during future festival seasons. To do so, the Santa Fe Opera will build upon relationships developed through its 45-year-old Pueblo Opera Program and the work of three Northern New Mexico Pueblos (San Ildefonso, Santa Clara and Tesuque), who came together to create a sacred offering of a Corn Dance on the mainstage prior to and during performances of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic in 2018.


For more information on OPERA America, visit About Us.

For press inquiries, contact Press@operaamerica.org or 212.796.8628.