Joanna Haigood
Joanna Haigood is the artistic director of Zaccho Dance Theatre and a 2023 Rainin Fellow

The Oakland-based Kenneth Rainin Foundation has announced another round of large grants to S.F. Bay Area artists and organizations, continuing its decades-long mission of supporting the arts, with more than $51 million in funding to date.

The 2023 Rainin Fellows are Joanna Haigood (dance), Sean San José (theater), Related Tactics (public space), and Mohammad Gorjestani (film). Each receives an unrestricted $100,000 grant, plus supplemental support designed to amplify the impact of the grant, both for the artists and the community.

“The fellows anchor the Bay Area’s art scene,” says the foundation’s announcement, “a community that has been the center of social and cultural movements for decades.”

Haigood is the artistic director of Zaccho Dance Theatre — San Francisco’s oldest Black-run dance company. She is currently working on several site-specific public art commissions that explore aerial choreography and what liberation means for the Black body.

Theater fellow San José is the artistic director of the Magic Theatre and co-founder of Campo Santo, “a new performances group for people of color, committed to the organic processes of collaboration. He works closely with artists from conception to production, and he is currently developing a project with musician and writer Mark Anthony Thompson.”

Public space fellow Related Tactics is “a collective of three artists of color who came together to create spaces for convening and exploring the connections between art and movements for social justice through transdisciplinary exchanges and collective making.

“For them, public space is not spatial or architectural — their group exhibitions, residencies, and convening projects always speak from the collective voice to reframe dominant narratives.”

Gorjestani, this year’s film fellow, is interested in “multiple format storytelling that focuses on the resilient narratives of overlooked, unseen, or marginalized individuals and communities.” He is the founder of Even/Odd, “a creative studio that develops bold projects by underrepresented talent,” and is currently working on several projects, including a coming-of-age feature film set in San Francisco.

Following Kenneth Rainin’s lifelong example, the foundation adds to his legacy with new programs, such as the fellowships. “Rainin Fellows are vital to their communities. The 2023 Rainin Fellows mobilize their site-specific storytelling and community-based artistic practices to innovate new modes of interdisciplinary artmaking and social impact. This year’s cohort engages with myriad histories of the region, amplifying diasporic narratives, highlighting systemic inequities, and honoring and furthering the Bay Area’s activist legacies.”

Haigood — whose work has been commissioned by Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Walker Art Center, the Exploratorium, the National Black Arts Festival, and Festival d’Avignon, among others — told SF Classical Voice:

“It’s been wonderful to be back in the studio and to be performing for audiences in person again. But these continue to be difficult and uncertain times for most of us and certainly for the planet.

“I think a creative practice and lens helps us understand the issues we face and, in many ways, offers useful strategies for collaboration and for a deeper level of listening to one another. Art has always played an important part in social and political activism and is an extraordinary bridge builder. Being an artist is the best way I know to support my community and the movements for positive change.

“I am very blessed to have been able to sustain a life as an artist, but frankly, living in the Bay Area is a challenge. The Rainin Fellowship will help stabilize my life and allow me to concentrate my energy on making work.”

What is she working on currently?

Flying to Freedom: Celebrating Juneteenth Through Aerial Dance, Music, and Theater showcases the work and performances of local music, theater, dance, and aerial artists reflecting on their own understanding of liberation as African Americans during this time.”

Haigood is also working on The People’s Palace, “scheduled for October 2023. This project is an artistic intervention and dialogue with the architectural iconography of San Francisco City Hall. This is a large-scale installation work that, through live performance and projection design, interjects the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] communities and narratives that are excluded from representation in the Beaux Arts style.

“My hope is to provide an alternate, or perhaps a more accurate, picture of who and what defines San Francisco. I am collaborating with Marcus Shelby [and] Mildred Howard among other extraordinary artists.” Two additional projects, The Bronx Revolution and The Birth of Hip-Hop, are scheduled for 2024.