New funding to help Pa. arts and humanities groups bring programs back or start new ones

The Esperanza Academy Dance Ensemble is pictured performing at Cherry Street Pier. (Photo courtesy Esperanza Art Center)

The Esperanza Academy Dance Ensemble is pictured performing at Cherry Street Pier. (Photo courtesy Esperanza Art Center)

Just in time for Christmas, last week 92 arts and humanities organizations across Pennsylvania each received $6,000 to $16,000 from PA Humanities, totaling $1.4 million.

The PA SHARP grants come from the federal American Rescue Plan funding, which was distributed through the National Endowment for the Humanities.

While CARES Act funding in 2020 was meant to help organizations cover basic operational expenses as the pandemic suddenly shut many nonprofits down, the SHARP funds are more project-oriented, meant to help organizations bring back programs and services, or develop new offerings.

“A lot of arts organizations were not eligible for the first round of funding for CARES because they didn’t have humanities as their primary mission,” said Dawn Frisby Byers, senior director of content and engagement for PA Humanities. “But this time, you’ll see a lot of arts organizations that do humanities programs.”

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The bulk of the PA SHARP funds came to Philadelphia, where 36 out of the total 92 recipients are based. Among them are Three Aksha, a Indian dance and performance company based at the Girard College campus; the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, aka the Mütter Museum; and the Esperanza Arts Center in North Philadelphia, a Latino performing arts theater associated with the Esperanza Academy Charter School.

The Esperanza Academy Dance Ensemble is pictured performing at Cherry Street Pier. (Photo courtesy Esperanza Art Center)

The Esperanza Arts Center began shooting video interviews with Latino artists in 2020, with the intention of releasing a series of produced films about Latino leaders that could be shared with schools around the country. Senior Vice President Bill Rhoads said the SHARP funds will allow the center to finish post-production.

Called “LuminArias”, the video series started with four artists: Gabriela Sanchez of Power Street Theater, Latin jazz musician Suzzette Ortiz, artistic director of the Philadelphia Ballet Angel Corella, and Lina Gonzalez-Granados, a conducting fellow with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

“We realized that the arts were just the tip of the iceberg for us,” said Bill Rhoads, senior vice president with Esperanza Arts Center. “We wanted to be able to focus on Latino leaders in the sciences, in the humanities, civic leaders, anyone that we felt our students and students around the country would benefit from hearing about.”

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Rhoads expects to release the first round of LuminArias videos in February, while continuing to develop accompanying study guides to be completed this summer. He expects to develop it into an ongoing series with new content released periodically.

Frisby Byers said 348 organizations applied for PA SHARP grants, with 92 accepted. Those accepted will become part of a peer network, fostering organizations from across the state to help one another.

“Someone is doing something in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and somebody else is doing a similar thing in Erie County, and they’ll never know about it because they don’t have the opportunity to speak with each other,” she said. “All of these 92 applicants will participate in a learning network where we share best practices.”

The PA SHARP grant program is a one-time-only distribution, per the American Rescue Plan.

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