Cultural Producer Grants Unveiled in Kansas City

No Divide KC is one of seven organizations to receive a Cultural Producer Grant from the Charlotte Street Foundation. Pictured above are No Divide KC’s board members (identified front to back and left to right), Stacy Busch, Jacory Deon, Anna Joy Walker, Tanith K., John Chittum, Emily Spradling, Nita Hughley, Waleska Barroeta, JD Daniel. (photo by Jim Barcus)

Charlotte Street Foundation’s New Grant Series Breathes Life into Kansas City’s Grassroots Art

As the broader Kansas City cultural landscape reemerges from the depths of a pandemic, the Charlotte Street Foundation has inaugurated a new funding stream to benefit some of the community’s smallest creative organizations. Unveiled in 2021, the Cultural Producer Grants are the product of an intensive collaboration between the Charlotte Street Foundation team and David Hughes, Jr., the group’s founder and emeritus director.

Although Kansas City’s arts community is fortunate to have the support of innumerable generous benefactors, the Cultural Producer Grants are specifically geared toward assisting small, artist-run operations that typically subsist on modest budgets. Amy Kligman, executive director of the Charlotte Street Foundation, explains how these organizations “have historically been underfunded and are primarily run on the volunteer efforts and funds of the organizers . . . we are hoping to contribute to more sustainable and equitable ongoing operations for the grantees.”

Also remarking on the economic challenges that confront the skeleton crews of the artistic universe, Hughes notes, “They operate below the radar of foundations and most individual donors. Our hope is to both raise their visibility in the community and to offer substantial operating support.” (In addition to his role in crafting a vision for the Cultural Producer Grants, Hughes was a primary funder.)

To achieve these goals, Charlotte Street executed what Kligman describes as “a rigorous jury process associated with the selection of the grantees, which includes a round of online scoring and finalists who advance to an interview stage.” The response from Kansas City’s independent art scene was tremendous, with 70 organizations applying for grants. Of these applicants, seven were selected to receive support of five or ten thousand dollars.

Jose Faus, a member of the jury and a longtime visual artist, performer, writer and educator, believes that nurturing the city’s vibrant artistic cottage industries “is a unique opportunity to reward and recognize groups and individuals that do the work that contributes to the general arts environment. For me, one of the highlights was to see the depth and breadth of engagement that is taking place in the city.”

Artist and Cultural Producer Grants jury member Jose Faus gives a reading in Manheim Gardens, a grant recipient and outdoor public garden space used as a venue by artists from various disciplines. (courtesy of Taylor Fourt)

It would be remiss not to note that the awardees represent the entirety of Kansas City’s creative spectrum, with grants going to theater projects, musical performance, writers and publishers, community horticulture and cinema.

Dayna Moth, with KC Zine Con, hopes to use some of the funding their organization obtained to secure a safe, suitable space for the group’s 2022 in-person convention. These annual gatherings celebrate the art of the zine — DIY, analog publications that contain illustrations, prose, poetry, lyrics, comics and anything else that can exist on a printed page.

KC Zine Con hopes to use some of their Cultural Producer grant funds to secure a safe, suitable space for the group’s 2022 in-person convention. Above, Zinesters show-off and sell their DIY publications at KCZC #5 in 2019. (photo by Kayla Lane Freeman)

As Moth explains, zines are “a really accessible way to get your art or words out into the world.” With a mission to “empower individuals as auteurs in the self-published medium through the prioritization of underrepresented voices, KC Zine Con’s dedicated cadre of volunteers will leverage the windfall to provide quality programming at next year’s convention and continue to meet the needs of their diverse community.

Another recipient of a Cultural Producer Grant is The Cecilia Series, a concert program by Kansas City vocalist Victoria Botero. She describes her work as music for people who “always leave a venue loving the music, but still curious about the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of it all.” Her passion is entwining live musical performance with contemporary issues, particularly those facing women and people who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). Botero says the grant “gives me the freedom to research and produce more than one concert a year,” as well as enabling her to hire professional musicians who would normally exceed The Cecilia Series’ budget.

Providing opportunities for marginalized voices is a common theme among many of the grantees, and La Resistencia Press further exemplifies this work. A small, independent press, La Resistencia “seeks to remove the gatekeeper from publishing” and empower creators who “are not considered because of racial and socio-economic factors.”

A sampling of publications put out by grant recipient La Resistencia Press, a small, independent press dedicated to providing exposure for marginalized voices. (courtesy of M.G. Salazar)

M.G. Salazar, an author and member of the publishing team, explains the importance of their work: “After bad experiences with two former publishers, I decided no marginalized author should have to go through that, or feel like they don’t own their work. Each book project we do is an investment into that artist, as well as using our platform to further their career in any way we can.”

Salazar is excited about the press’ upcoming schedule and invites readers to be on the lookout for collections of poetry, comics and art books. The Cultural Producer Grant will help subsidize a project with AY Young, one of 17 young people named by the United Nations as a leader for global Sustainable Development Goals. La Resistencia will publish eight comic books and a hardcover volume that educate and encourage children to fight for sustainability in their own lives.

As unique as the grant recipients are, the Charlotte Street Foundation assessed several factors prior to awarding funding, such as the potential impact on the Kansas City arts ecosystem, risk, collaboration, openness and excellence. Charlotte Street executive director Kligman also emphasizes that “we ensure that 50% or more of the recipients are actively addressing gaps in our ecosystem related to funding for organizations positively impacting BIPOC, LGBTQIA, and Disabled Communities of artists.”

Providing opportunities for marginalized voices is a common theme among many of the grantees.

Grant recipient Stray Cat Film Center is an artist-run, non-profit microcinema and community space at 1662 Broadway Blvd. (Stray Cat Film Center)
Sheri “Purpose” Hall of the Poetry Club Collective (photo by Jim Barcus)

Additional recipients of Cultural Producer Grants include the Poetry Club Collective, which will use its funding to continue hosting weekly events at 18th and Vine in Kansas City, and Stray Cat Film Center, an artist-run, non-profit microcinema and community space that plans to put the grant toward operations costs and restoration of its theater.

One of Kansas City’s most remarkable venues, Manheim Gardens, is an outdoor public garden space that serves as
a “hidden haven for budding artists of all denominations” and hosts literary readings, painting workshops and concerts, among myriad other creative activities. The Gardens’ grant will help support local artists and connect them with new communities and audiences.

Another grantee whose primary mission involves supporting underserved and misrepresented communities, No Divide KC, aspires to “create truly inclusive spaces that are welcoming, memorable, and community focused,” according to Stacy Busch, co-founder and president. She explains that as an organization that endeavors to compensate artists fairly and equitably, No Divide KC will use the Cultural Producer Grant to “provide critical financial stability, which allows us to grow and better accomplish these goals.”

To learn more about the Cultural Producer Grants and this year’s recipients, visit charlottestreet.org/awards/cultural-producer-grants.

Matthew Thompson

Matthew Thompson is an educator, historian, and writer who has lived in Kansas since 2005. His research interests include Progressivism and the Socialist Party of America, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War. He enjoys studying visual arts to help make the world and its history accessible and exciting to others.

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