Portland Ovations has been approved for a $50,000 National Endowment for the Arts Art Works award for a series of projects in partnership with Indigo Arts Alliance and Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center, centering the work of Black, Brown, and Indigenous artists within contexts of deep collaboration, community engagement, and artistic exchange and mentorship. NEA Chairman Mary Anne Carter has approved 1015 grants nationwide in this category, totaling more than $84 million in grants as part of the Arts Endowment’s second major funding announcement for fiscal year 2020, according to a news release from Linda Nelson, deputy director.

“We’re grateful to the NEA for recognizing the relevance and intended impacts of this project, first conceived 18 months ago and following several years of partnership,” said Aimée M. Petrin, Portland Ovations’ executive and artistic director. “This generous award makes it possible to collaborate with a wide variety of artists from around the world: to actively engage with their stories and visions of humanity; to witness their performances, understand their crafts, and to shift how our 90-year-old organization engages with new and existing audiences.”

“Congratulations to our friends at Portland Ovations on receiving this generous grant from the National Endowment for the Arts! It is a testament to the many years that Portland Ovations has been committed to supporting the work of BIPOC artists,” said Marcia Minter, co-founder and executive director of Indigo Arts Alliance. “Indigo Arts Alliance is happy to be an advocate and partner ensuring that Black, Brown, and Indigenous artists’ brilliant voices are amplified along with their creative production.”

“These awards demonstrate the resilience of the arts in America, showcasing not only the creativity of their arts projects but the organizations’ agility in the face of a national health crisis,” said Mary Anne Carter, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “We celebrate organizations like Portland Ovations for providing opportunities for learning and engagement through the arts in these times.”

The awarded project spans two years of work beginning in 2021 and continuing through spring 2022, and includes the co-commission of a new work by award-winning choreographer Emily Johnson. Artists will be presented as Ovations’ Main Stage performances at Merrill Auditorium and/or virtually; in School-Time Performances and/or in-school residencies; in lecture/demonstrations and Master Classes; and in residencies and community conversations and events at Indigo Arts Alliance. The project includes:

• SPHINX VIRTUOSI: The Sphinx Virtuosi is one of the nation’s most dynamic professional chamber orchestras, comprised of 18 top Black and Latinx classical soloists. Putting a new face on classical music and dedicated to increasing racial and ethnic diversity within it, the ensemble’s repertoire includes masterpieces by Bach, Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, and Mozart performed alongside works by composers of color, including Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, George Walker, Michael Abels, and Astor Piazzolla. The Ovations program will include work by noted female composer Jesse Montgomery, a Sphinx alum, along with Scott Joplin, Samuel Barber, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, Philip Glass, Xavier Foley, and more.
• CARTOGRAPHY: Conceived and created by Kaneza Schaal and Christopher Myers, this new theatrical work explores the commonalities of migration and the concrete and metaphorical mapping at the center of worlds in motion. The interactive production draws on Schaal and Myers’ work with refugee youth in the US and internationally. The cast includes professional actors who are also US immigrants. Workshops mapping migrations and on the theme of what it takes to find home will be held in collaboration with the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center. Christopher Myers is the acclaimed illustrator of “Harlem: A Poem”, a Caldecott Honor Book; “Jazz”, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. He is also the author-illustrator of “Black Cat” and “H.O.R.S.E.: A Game of Basketball and Imagination”, both Coretta Scott King Honor Books. The Kennedy Center has adapted three of Myers’ books to the stage for young audiences.
• STEP AFRIKA!: Step Afrika! is the world’s first professional company dedicated to the tradition of stepping — a polyrhythmic, percussive dance form that uses the body as an instrument — creating new productions that expand on stepping’s unique American history of dance styles practiced by historically African American fraternities and sororities. The Ovations program will include excerpts from Step Afrika!’s new full-length work, “Drumfolk” — inspired by the 1739 revolt of Africans enslaved in South Carolina. The high-energy production explores the drum as an instrument of community, resilience and determination. Step Afrika! is one of the top 10 U.S. African American dance companies, reaching thousands each year through a 50-city tour of American colleges and theaters and performing globally as an official U.S. Cultural Ambassador.
• EMILY JOHNSON: BEING FUTURE BEING: An Ovations co-commission, Johnson’s newest work will delve into the power of creation myths and the way our origin stories set the potential for whom we become. Envisioned as an evening-length stage performance featuring Johnson and a cast of six to eight dancers, the majority of whom will be local, this new work reboots our past and reimagines our future. Building from the shared collective experience of the performance, Johnson will work with Ovations, Indigo Arts Alliance, and the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center to develop an extended community process that flows from, and follows, those audiences out and into their communities. Award-winning choreographer Emily Johnson has created a distinguished body of dance works and social choreographies that unite audiences in a shared experience of movement, place, history, collective action, and the continuance of Indigenous cultural practices and perspectives. Originally from Alaska, Johnson is of Yup’ik descent, and the engagement process around the creation of this new work will include outreach to and collaboration with Maine’s native communities and artists.

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