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Press Released: 01 Mar 2023

OPERA America Awards $180,000 In Civic Practice Grants To Eight U.S. Professional Company Members

Supported by OPERA America’s Opera Fund

OPERA America is pleased to award $180,000 in Civic Practice Grants to eight U.S. opera companies. The grants, funded by OPERA America’s Opera Fund, are designed to support opera companies’ efforts to address civic priorities in their communities more fully; develop robust, reciprocal relationships with other arts and non-arts organizations; and deliver greater public value through authentic, mutually beneficial partnerships.

The recipients of this cycle of Civic Practice Grants are:

  • Kentucky Opera (Louisville, KY) for Songs of Transformation
  • Los Angeles Opera (Los Angeles, CA) for Music as Medicine
  • Opera Baltimore (Baltimore, MD) for Avenue for Change
  • Opera Birmingham (Birmingham, AL) for accessibility programs for low-vision/low-hearing artists and audiences
  • Opera on Tap (Brooklyn, NY) for JOAN OF THE CITY
  • Pittsburgh Opera (Pittsburgh, PA) for Embracing Our Roots
  • The Santa Fe Opera (Santa Fe, NM) for Pueblo Opera Cultural Council
  • Tulsa Opera (Tulsa, OK) for Songs by Heart

See below for a description of each project.

Civic practice, as defined in OPERA America’s 2018 report “An Introduction to Civic Practice,” draws on opera’s authentic creative assets to address public priorities and community needs. Effective implementation is predicated on an ongoing process of learning, partnership, and leading change. Opera leaders must think flexibly about the art form’s strengths and develop a nuanced understanding of and deep respect for their local 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.

“To serve their communities more fully, opera companies must embrace partnerships and work beyond the traditional reach of their public programs,” stated Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “Civic Practice Grants provide resources to companies ready to engage with this essential work.”

Supported projects focus on social justice, civil rights, health and wellness, and accessibility, among other areas, and include partnerships with organizations at the national, state-wide, and local levels, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Disability Theatre, The Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, Alzheimer’s LA, and Baltimore’s Department of Recreation and Parks. The projects range from songs addressing social justice to new technology for low-vision/low-hearing audiences. Their impact will be felt by individuals living with memory loss disorders, long-haul COVID, and other chronic illnesses. 

Recipients of the Civic Practice Grants were selected by a panel of independent experts consisting of Autumn Coppaway, theater consultant; Ben Dietschi, senior consultant, DeVos Institute of Arts Management; Ersian François, general manager/associate producer, The Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, Georgetown University; Donna Walker-Kuhne, founder and president, Walker International Communications Group; and Diane Wondisford, producer and director.

Civic Practice Grants are funded by OPERA America’s Opera Fund, an endowment dedicated to supporting the creation and production of new operas and related audience development strategies. The Grants, launched in 2018, were informed by 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.

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 Mellon Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

More information about OPERA America’s grant programs is available at operaamerica.org/Grants.

About the Recipients

Kentucky Opera

Songs of Transformation

Kentucky Opera’s Songs of Transformation will activate the power of social justice and civil rights through song. Kentucky Opera has commissioned original civil rights songs by composer Jorell Williams and librettist Paula McCraney. These songs will premiere as part of a celebratory performance event launching the week of Juneteenth Jubilee, followed by a series of in-person and digital programming. These performance events and activities will be hosted by Kentucky Opera and steered by a committee of community partners. Kentucky Opera and its community partners believe that musical storytelling is a powerful vehicle to drive compassion, empathy, and meaningful change. Funds from OPERA America’s Civic Practice Grant will support the launch of these songs and programs to unite the voices of Kentucky communities in pursuit of justice for all.

Los Angeles Opera Company

Music as Medicine

LA Opera’s year-round Music as Medicine program pairs LA Opera singers with therapists and doctors to deliver specially designed patient care that supports speech and communications therapy, cognitive function for persons with memory loss disorders, and singing and breathing activities to aid long-COVID patients in overcoming lung disabilities and fatigue. In addition to these initiatives, which were created as a direct response to community needs, LA Opera brings an improved wellness environment through uplifting recitals designed to boost patient and staff morale and promote a healing atmosphere for patients. A vital element of civic practice within this program is facilitating the sharing of ideas, strategies, and effective practices with other arts and health organizations to promote further exploration of how the arts can be utilized to improve the physical and emotional well-being of the community. In spring 2023, LA Opera will host its second annual Arts and Health Summit, which invites arts and health organizations to learn and share program strategy, assessment tools, and research in the field.

Opera Baltimore

Avenue for Change

Avenue for Change seeks to build on the success of Opera Baltimore’s established civic practice program — Opera on the Avenue — leveraging the company’s community partnerships into a coalition of diverse groups committed to positive change in Baltimore City and using opera as the unexpected catalyst for communication. Specifically, Avenue for Change is a program that will serve families and community members who live and work in areas that have been disproportionately affected by COVID by offering trauma-informed, curricular opera-based programming free of charge.

Music is a proven connector and has an incredible power to heal. Avenue for Change will build on Opera Baltimore’s established educational programming for all ages to respond to the pandemic and its aftermath. Through breathwork and singing, the collaborative creation of the participants’ own opera, and a focus on healing after isolation, facilitators and participants will work together to uplift, encourage, and heal. The primary objectives for the participants and their mentors will be mindfulness, self-reliance, goal-setting, and follow-through. Psychologists and education specialist partners will advise on the project.

Opera Birmingham

Accessibility programs for low-vision/low-hearing artists and audiences

As Opera Birmingham prepares for the world premiere of Touch, a commission about the lives of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, it is working to implement expanded accessibility points for the Deaf/Blind/low-vision/low-hearing community. These efforts extend to both creative and performing artists as well as audiences, to honor Helen Keller’s work to expand opportunities for the disabled. Leading up to the world premiere, the company is implementing a new supertitle system to allow access to titles on an electronic device (with the ability to adjust the size of the text), developing inclusive and accessible audition and casting processes, implementing resources to support Deaf/Blind creatives and performers, and implementing accessibility points for audiences (audio descriptive services, Braille and large-print program materials, ASL interpreters). These accessibility features will be included in all Opera Birmingham performances, including future productions.

Opera on Tap


JOAN OF THE CITY is a site-specific multimedia opera that uses augmented reality and mixed reality to tell the reimagined and social-justice-oriented story of a modern-day Joan of Arc. In this new work, Joan is a woman who has ended up on the street due to her all-consuming visions. Now, the spirits of the city call out to be saved from the occupying forces of greed and corruption. The audience, armed with MR glasses, becomes part of Joan’s army, joining her through the streets of the city. As they journey, the real world and the vision world will blend as different Joans meet and real-life actors enter the real-world performance. The piece will culminate at a final location where the cast and instrumentalists will perform live, seamlessly transitioning from the AR environment into the real world. With this project, Opera on Tap is using its artistic practice in service of social justice through collaboration with service organizations that work directly with houseless women. The opera’s libretto will be based on original texts provided by houseless women. At the heart of this endeavor, Opera on Tap wants to demonstrate how the theatrical context of Joan’s blended worlds can create greater empathy for houseless communities and those challenged with mental illness. The opera is co-created by award-winning composer Kamala Sankaram and the artistic director of HERE, Kristin Marting.

Pittsburgh Opera

Embracing Our Roots

Pittsburgh Opera’s Embracing Our Roots project will expand and deepen the company’s civic practice engagement with the community of Homewood, a Pittsburgh neighborhood that was once home to the National Negro Opera Company (NNOC). As a strategic partner in the process of restoring the former NNOC building as a museum and a cultural center, Pittsburgh Opera is committed to creating opportunities for attaining what NNOC’s founder Mary Cardwell Dawson described as “the highest level in musical expression and culture” for those who have been most affected by the racial inequalities in access to the arts.

Embracing Our Roots will focus on the process of mutual discovery of the impact and changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, in relation to both the community and the opera company, and on creating a space for conversation on how these changes should influence the development of programming at the National Opera House. By bringing a full range of artistic, education, and community engagement resources to highly accessible community locations in Homewood (including schools, libraries, and civic and religious organizations), Pittsburgh Opera will create a platform for discussion on the best application of these resources to meet the specific needs of Homewood.

Santa Fe Opera

Pueblo Opera Cultural Council

The Santa Fe Opera will continue its significant work with the Pueblo Opera Cultural Council (POCC), which furthers the company’s unique and historical efforts to serve New Mexico’s 23 Indigenous Tribes. Since 1973, 100,000 Native youth and their elders have attended Youth Nights at the Opera through the Pueblo Opera Program (POP). When Peter Sellars directed the company’s 2018 production of Doctor Atomic, he wanted to acknowledge how Native histories were intertwined with the Manhattan Project. Out of conversations with members of the all-Native POP Advisory Committee came a truly unique and unprecedented event in American opera: Members of three neighboring Pueblos performed a sacred Corn Dance on the stage of the Santa Fe Opera, both prior to and during performances of Doctor Atomic. The POCC grew organically out of this historical moment, driven by the participants’ desire to continue to explore opportunities to collaborate with the opera. The POCC’s self-defined mission is “to share our living Indigenous cultural existence through knowledge of prayer, dance, song, music, and art.” Today, thanks to their efforts, every Santa Fe Opera performance begins with a land acknowledgment. Grant activities include producing a documentary on POP’s 50th anniversary directed by a Native filmmaker.

Tulsa Opera

Songs by Heart

Tulsa Opera is proud to offer Songs by Heart, an interactive, therapeutic program that connects people with memory loss to language and the joy of music. Tulsa Opera provides specially trained singers with live piano accompaniment to engage participants using familiar songs that evoke emotions, reduce anxiety, enhance confidence, and improve cognitive performance. Tulsa Opera is the first regional opera company to partner with the Songs by Heart Foundation. Since its beginning in Chicago in 2015, the Songs by Heart Foundation has grown to be part of the programming in more than 50 memory care communities across the nation. Under this new partnership, Tulsa Opera anticipates benefitting hundreds of individuals, families, and caregivers in Oklahoma over the next 12 months.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer Songs by Heart to our community,” says Ken McConnell, Tulsa Opera general director and CEO. “Given the prevalence of memory loss and the growing senior population, the program is needed more than ever. Songs by Heart is an example of how Tulsa Opera’s reach extends beyond the stage and into the fabric of our community.”


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