Space, the multidisciplinary arts nonprofit in Portland, has received a $40,000 two-year “incubator grant” from a new fund that supports small and midsized arts organizations by awarding them money and letting them do with it as they wish.

Space is one of five arts nonprofits to receive the unrestricted grants from the VIA Art Fund and Wagner Foundation, which established the five-year, $1 million Incubator Grant Fund in recognition of the challenges that smaller arts groups face in attracting and sustaining capital and people. Space is the only arts organization in New England to receive a grant.

The other recipients are Burnaway in Atlanta; the Coleman Center for the Arts in York, Alabama; Midway Contemporary Art in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and PS1 – Center for Afrofuturist Studies in Iowa City, Iowa. Each will receive $40,000 for general operating support in two $20,000 installments, in 2020 and 2021.

Space Executive Director Kelsey Halliday Johnson described the grant as transformative, as opposed to transactional.

“Trying to get unrestricted support is complicated right now in the art world. People want to see the project or the commission or the thing, and so to have a foundation that is pivoting to support what organizations are doing to maintain a healthy nonprofit structure is pretty amazing. It feels really good,” Johnson said. “It’s not the largest grant that Space has received, but from my perspective, it’s the biggest game-changing grant we’ve had in a long time.”

Space will use the money to pay artists fairly and provide resources for employees to “keep up with the pace of technology,” including, perhaps, a new printer for the office and a better documentary camera to record and archive the art its artists create, Johnson said. The staff is revisiting a continuing facade project, where the challenge is balancing a historical renovation of the upper floors while “making ourselves distinctive on the bottom floors,” Johnson said.

Space hosts about 200 events and 15 exhibitions annually in its performance and gallery spaces at 538 Congress St. Its annual operating budget is about $800,000, including money it collects from renting below market-rate studios on its upper floors to local artists.

It employs seven people, two full-time. During events, it adds another six or nine employees. It recently added two positions: an engagement manager, Lia Wilson, and a communications coordinator, Geneviève Beaudoin. Carolyn Wachnicki, who worked previously at Long Now Foundation and the New Museum, is the new exhibitions coordinator, and music coordinator Peter McLaughlin is back from a six-month sabbatical. There’s a new office manager, Jocelyn Leighton, and a new building superintendent, Jonathan Downs. Ian Hundt is the event staff manager, promoted from his previous position as production manager.

In a news release announcing the award, the VIA Foundation and Wagner Fund cited Space for being “deeply rooted in local Portland” while also facing “internationally outward,” demonstrated by its response to contemporary art trends and issues facing LGBTQ, refugee and other communities.

In a statement, VIA program director Tali Cherizli said, “The first cohort of VIA | Wagner Incubator grantees exemplifies the richness of our cultural landscape. While each organization is utterly unique, all are united by a mission to create innovative contemporary arts programming that resonates at home while steering discourse further afield. This integration of the local with the global infuses our national arts ecosystem with various models for artistic excellence, ensuring that artists based in both rural and urban communities have the platforms they need for developing experimental work.”

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