Hewlett Awards $1.5 Million for 10 Anniversary Arts Commissions

Janos Gereben on January 8, 2019

As the William & Flora Hewlett Foundation announced a year ago, it is marking its 50th anniversary with a five-year, $8-million initiative “to enable Bay Area nonprofits to work with outstanding artists from around the world to create 50 new works of performing art of exceptional quality and enduring value and premiere them in local communities.”

The Foundation, which is also a supporter of San Francisco Classical Voice, has now announced 10 new recipients of $150,000 Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions each, including major music projects by Stanford Live, Kitka, and Center for Asian American Media.

Since 1967, the Hewlett Foundation has made more than $350 million in grants to arts organizations. Launched in January 2017 to celebrate the foundation’s 50th anniversary, the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions awards 10 grants to local nonprofits annually in each of five performing arts disciplines through 2021.

Awardees were selected based on four criteria: artistic excellence, community engagement, collaboration and leadership, and financial capacity. A group of 20 finalists for the awards was nominated by a panel of outside experts.

“The arts are a vital part of any thriving community,” said Hewlett Foundation President Larry Kramer. “The San Francisco Bay Area has long been home to one of the nation’s great art scenes, and many of the world’s most innovative artists. We hope this program plays a role in sustaining and continuing that rich tradition.”

The nonprofits commissioning the new works include both well-established, large-budget organizations and smaller nonprofit organizations. “What unites them,” says the announcement, “is the quality of their artistry and their commitment to creating new work that will engage, challenge, and inspire Bay Area audiences.”

The recipients for theater, musical theater, and spoken word are:

Brenda Wong Aoki will create J-Town, Chinatown, Our Town

Center for Asian American Media and Brenda Wong Aoki for J-Town, Chinatown, Our Town. The multidisciplinary work is rooted in the artist’s 121-year family history. Inspired by the story of her son, a mixed-race young man raised in San Francisco, Wong Aoki will weave together narrative, film, live music, dance, and other media to examine a young man’s familial connection to the city as it undergoes a period of rapid, dislocating economic change and rampant inequality.

“This project is a transmission of experiential wisdom and love — for family, for homeland —  drawn from decades of living and working in the city,” said Wong Aoki. “At its core, this is a love letter to San Francisco.”

Karmina Šilec and Kitka are commissioned to create a vocal theater work about the “sworn virgins” of the Balkans.

Kitka and Karmina Šilec for BABA, a music-theater work inspired by “sworn virgins,” a disappearing social phenomenon of women living as men in remote regions in the Balkan highlands. The work is created by Slovenian director, composer, and conductor Karmina Šilec for Kitka, the Oakland-based women’s vocal ensemble.

Stanford Live and Weyni Mengesha will develop and premiere a “contemporary but historically-informed reimagining” of Scott Joplin’s early 20th century opera Treemonisha.”

The work’s creative team, led by director Mengesha, librettist Leah Simone Bowen, and composers Jessie Montgomery and Jannina Norpoth, is tasked with bringing to the work an entirely new libretto and an expanded musical language incorporating jazz, traditional and contemporary classical music, West African idioms, and of course, ragtime.

Weyni Mengesha is director of Scott Joplin’s “reimagined” opera Treemonisha, which will have its world premiere at Stanford Live.

California Shakespeare Theater and Marcus Gardley for A Thousand Ships, which tells the story of the women who came to the Bay Area to work in the shipyards during World War II.

Destiny Arts Center and Marc Bamuthi Joseph for The Black (W)hole, a multidisciplinary theater production and work of public ritual that will serve as a spoken word and movement elegy for Oakland youth killed before the age of 30.

The Imaginists and Árpád Schilling to create The Gun, which examines the central role of guns and gun violence in contemporary American society.

Magic Theatre and Taylor Mac for Calamity Joy, which traces the life of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, and the death of Mac’s own mother, a Christian Scientist who refused treatment for cancer because of her beliefs.

PolicyLink and Michael Moore for We, the 100 Million, a series of place-based, community-driven choreo-poems performed with music and multimedia storytelling exploring inequity in the United States.

Teatro Visión and Salomón Santiago for Alas y Raices (Wings and Roots), a new play about migration, developed through a binational collaboration between theater companies and community members in San Jose, California and Mexico City.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Rafael Casal for The Limp, a new work combining song, verse, and theater to examine “toxic masculinity.”

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