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July 21, 2021

Local artists, organizations receive $3 million in multi-year arts and culture grants

The Forman Arts Initiative and the Philadelphia Foundation teamed up for the grant program

Arts & Culture Grants
Art Works Grant — José Ortiz-Pagán José Ortiz-Pagán/Courtesy

José Ortiz-Pagán was one of nine artists and organizations that received art grants. Pictured: La Ofrenda (2015).

Four artists and five cultural organizations were awarded a total of $3 million in grant funding to support arts and culture in Philadelphia as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, the Forman Arts Initiative and the Philadelphia Foundation announced the nine winners of its five-year grant program Arts Works for community-based artists.

Four artists received two-year, unrestricted grants of $10,000 per year, and five community-based organizations received two-year, unrestricted grants of at least $50,000 per year. 

One of the winners, artist José Ortiz-Pagán, has worked as a printmaker, sculptor, painter and performance artist. He hopes to facilitate community change through his artwork and performances and calls himself a "cultural organizer."

"It was truly amazing to be recognized for a work that is so close to my heart," Ortiz-Pagán told PhillyVoice.

He said after he heard that he won the grant money, he was in shock.

"As an artist, you've been through [grant applications] so many times that you don't get your hopes up too fast," Ortiz-Pagán said. "I got my email on a Saturday morning … we all just started jumping in the house."

He said the money will help him work on more projects and pursue art as a full-time career.

The Art Works grant was specifically geared toward supporting artists and institutions working in partnership with under-served communities.

"The breadth and quality of the applications really excites us," said Jennifer Rice, co-founder of the Forman Arts Initiative. "These artists and organizations are creating work that puts Philadelphia in a class by itself, and they represent our city’s deep and diverse creativity."

The Big Picture Alliance was one of the organizations that won $50,000 in annual grant money for two years. Executive Director Aleks Martray said the BPA engages, educates and empowers Philadelphia youth through filmmaking and digital media arts learning experiences.

"Multi-year operating funds are super important for a small arts organization like ours, so right away, it was such a great opportunity," Martray told PhillyVoice. "[I'm] just grateful that something like this exists for all of the arts organizations that are receiving grants."

He said he immediately thought of the kids that participate in the program once he heard that BPA received the grant.

"I thought of all of our students that we've been working with throughout this really rough year, a challenging year, and how much this is going to them and our ability to come back this year strong and hopefully come back in person and launch new programs, have new paid apprenticeship opportunities," Martray said.

The inaugural class of individual artists awarded grant money included Ortiz-Pagán, Jorge Rullán Fantauzzi, Sabriaya Shipley and Tshay Williams.

"The selected artists and organizations are creating some of the most novel, challenging, inspiring work anywhere," said Pedro Ramos, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation. "We asked each applicant to demonstrate a commitment to incorporating community perspectives into their work, and the wide scope of views we received surpassed all of our expectations. Across disciplines and mediums, they collectively represent Philadelphia’s rich, diverse communities. It’s a privilege to have such talent in our first Art Works cohort."

Art organizations awarded grant money included the BPA, Bearded Ladies Cabaret, BlackStar, Twelve Gates Arts and Scribe Video Center. They will also be linked with Drexel University's co-operative program to provide students with work experience in the arts and culture sector.

More than 100 artists and organizations applied for funding. The winners were ultimately chosen by a nine-member committee composed of community advisors, FAI and Philadelphia Foundation principals and staff.

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