Press Released: 18 May 2021

OPERA America Awards $180,000 in Civic Practice Grants to Eight Professional Company Members

Supported by OPERA America’s Opera Fund

OPERA America has awarded $180,000 in Civic Practice Grants, supported by OPERA America’s Opera Fund.  Civic Practice Grants assist Professional Company Members in learning more about civic priorities in their communities, developing robust, reciprocal relationships with other arts and non-arts organizations, and delivering services through authentic, mutually beneficial partnerships.

The recipients of this cycle of Civic Practice Grants are:

  • Anchorage Opera (Anchorage, AK)
  • Baltimore Concert Opera (Baltimore, MD)
  • Cincinnati Opera (Cincinnati, OH)
  • Los Angeles Opera (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Opera Cultura (San Jose, CA)
  • Opera Parallèle (San Francisco, CA)
  • Opera Saratoga (Saratoga Springs, NY)
  • White Snake Projects (Brookline, MA)

 See below for a description of each project.

Civic practice is predicated on an ongoing process of learning, partnership, and leading change. It invites opera leaders to think flexibly about the art form’s strengths and requires a nuanced understanding of and deep respect for a locale’s many histories and identities. This work requires an examination of what it means for opera companies to be engaged cultural citizens in their communities as the basis for building long-term trust and appreciation for companies and the art form.

Recipients of the Civic Practice Grants were selected from among 38 applications by a panel of industry leaders consisting of Benjamin Bongers, tenor, professor, and gerontologist; Dr. Antonio Cuyler, director of the MA program and associate professor of arts administration, Florida State University; Sue Elliott, director of the Tanglewood Learning Institute; Cayenne Harris, vice president, education and community engagement, University Musical Society; and Keryl McCord, CEO, Equity Quotient.

“OPERA America believes opera companies must extend beyond transactional strategies to demonstrate their commitment to strengthening the communities they serve,” stated Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “Civic Practice Grants help companies draw on their creative assets and organizational resources to address public priorities.”

Civic Practice Grants are made possible through OPERA America’s Opera Fund, an endowment dedicated to supporting the creation and production of new operas and related audience development strategies.  Civic Practice Grants, launched in 2018, grew from OPERA America’s Civic Action Group and regional workshops that were funded by two Our Town Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. They reflect OPERA America’s commitment to sustaining long-term investment in making opera and opera companies more responsive to pressing community needs and replaced the Audience Development grants program that had focused more narrowly on increasing public interest in new operas. 

The Opera Fund was launched with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from Helen F. Whitaker Fund, Lee Day Gillespie, Lloyd and Mary Ann Gerlach, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Since the inception of its granting programs, OPERA America has awarded over $20 million to the opera field to support the work of opera creators, companies, and administrators. Learn more about OPERA America’s grant programs.

2021 Civic Practice Grant Recipients

Anchorage Opera

Quyana Initiative: A Commitment to Decolonization and Indigenization
Anchorage Opera will strive to increase awareness of Alaska Native issues, demonstrate respect for the lands on which Anchorage Opera creates and for their first peoples, and foster community dialogue as we seek to establish sustained partnerships with Alaska Native individuals, groups, and corporations. Working with a Cultural Liaison to ensure tribal protocols, the company will mount projects and create welcoming spaces where Indigenous communities may have felt excluded by the artform and by the company. Initial activities will surround the USA premiere of Missing by Marie Clements and Brian Current, an opera about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). Proposed pre- and post-performance events to include traditional ceremonies, partners’ exhibits, reading of MMIW names from the stage by Elders, and Talking Circles. Family Opera Day will feature Alaska Native arts/crafts projects and a performance of Aklaq and Nayak - An Alaska Native adaptation of Hansel and Gretel (with a libretto in English and Iñupiaq).

Baltimore Concert Opera

Baltimore after Freddie Gray: Building Community through Opera
Baltimore Concert Opera will redouble their intentional work on EDI efforts, in a city with a 63% Black population, to ensure that the company is reflective of the community in which it performs. Through this project, the company will deepen their partnership with the Arch Social Club, the oldest known, continuously operating African American men's club in the United States. The Arch Social Clubhouse is the last remaining venue for live entertainment on Baltimore's historic Pennsylvania Avenue commercial corridor, which was long ago a hub for the Black community.  A long overdue but sincere effort to repair the injustices committed against Black people in America is underway. Baltimore is a city with deep racial divides but also with great enthusiasm from so many of its citizens to be a part of positive change. Baltimore Concert Opera will endeavor to make Baltimore a better place by creating connections between diverse neighborhoods in the city, using opera as the bridge.

Cincinnati Opera

Fierce World Premiere and Community Outreach
Cincinnati Opera will present the world premiere of Fierce, an opera created by African American librettist and composer team Sheila Williams and William Menefield. Fierce tells the story of a group of teen girls and their struggles with school, bullying, mental illness, and trouble at home. The story was developed in partnership with three local youth organizations, Music Resource Center, WordPlay, and i.imagine, through interviews with young women from the organizations. The company hopes to achieve several goals with the help of this grant; to produce a new opera that speaks to today’s youth and the challenges they face, and to share and connect with as many young people as possible; to develop meaningful, long-term relationships with their partners and lay the groundwork for future collaboration; and to promote to young people the idea that their stories are worthy and must be told and that art is a powerful tool for expressing themselves.

Los Angeles Opera

Music as Medicine
LA Opera will expand its existing partnerships with healthcare organizations, developed over the past four years to provide social and emotional support to those facing physical and mental health challenges. The company will extend the profound healing powers of music by integrating its singers into music therapy within a healthcare setting. The goal is to not only improve the physical and emotional well-being of patients and their caretakers, but to support vital community healthcare organizations that have been hard-hit by the pandemic. LA Opera and its partners hope to create an effective music therapy program that can be replicated by other arts and healthcare organizations.

Opera Cultura

La Escuela Initiative
Opera Cultura will establish La Escuela Initiative to address inequity in opera, working with partners that serve systemically marginalized communities. With a long-term goal of integrating educational and mainstage programs, La Escuela will develop training programs in performance and technical theater production for young people of color, with the possibility of then employing La Escuela’s students for Opera Cultura’s mainstage productions. The company will also establish an online referral service whereby other arts organizations can hire the program’s graduates. In line with Opera Cultura’s artistic goals to leverage technology to tell the stories of their community, the project will also address systemic racism in the digital divide, making new technologies in set design part of La Escuela’s curriculum.

Opera Parallèle

The Bullhorn: Amplifying Unheard Voices
Opera Parallèle will relaunch The Bullhorn as a core program, to institutionalize civic practice and affirm its place as an essential part of the organization. The company seeks to strengthen existing partnerships, make new connections, and build long lasting relationships within the Bay Area’s vital LGBTQ and BIPOC communities. Its 2021/22 productions will provide inspiration to establish common ground, as civic practice underscores the entire season. Its goal is to be a bullhorn for all parts of the community, to amplify unheard voices, and to create authentic belonging for those who seek it. The inaugural Bullhorn partners will be The Transgender District SF and San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. Opera Parallèle continues its commitment to diverse and inclusive programming and seeks to broaden BIPOC representation in all aspects. The company seeks to uplift and inspire, to activate and initiate, and to challenge expectations of what an opera company can be and do.

Opera Saratoga

Alzheimer's Music Therapy Initiative
An estimated 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease today; and a recent study using data from the CDC, Medicaid, and Medicare shows that New York state has the tenth highest rate of Alzheimer's Disease in the country. In fall 2021, Opera Saratoga will launch a new engagement-centered music therapy program developed for memory care communities, created in partnership with Songs by Heart. Opera Saratoga will work with the Alzheimer’s Association of North Eastern New York to identify multiple assisted living facilities across seven counties in upstate New York to pilot the program. The grant will allow the company to build upon the planning phase of this project and effectively launch the program. Opera Saratoga will create metrics for evaluation that will further enhance its ability to sustain the initiative long-term and serve as a model for other companies interested in serving those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

White Snake Projects

Directory of Indigenous Performing Artists/Performing Arts Series
“A healing moment occurs for the person who has told you their story, but also for you as the one who has accepted the story,” said Murray Sinclair, Anishinaabe leader. White Snake Projects and its Indigenous partners will research and identify Indigenous singers, musicians, instrumentalists, directors, designers, artists, composers, and writers. They will create the Directory of Indigenous Performing Artists to serve as a reference for the opera industry in casting, hiring, and commissioning Indigenous creators and artists. White Snake Projects will also present a community performance series featuring artists selected from the Directory and begin the development of a new Indigenous opera using its resources. With this project, the company seeks to highlight Indigenous music and stories which have been long overlooked or exoticized in white-centered, “mainstream” opera and music theater, and to return control of Indigenous stories to Native Americans.

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