Grants support artists representing a diversity of communities across disciplines and geographies.

Building on its commitment to supporting  artists and culture bearers in low-income communities and communities of color who nurture, sustain, and grow our communities’ cultural traditions, the Surdna Foundation announced today the recipients of its Artists Engaged in Social Change grant awards. The grants are designed to support individual artists, culture bearers, and nonprofits whose work is embedded in community and either helps to inform, engage, or challenge people around specific social issues or helps to increase our awareness of cultural diversity.

Fifteen project grants were awarded from more than 1000 applications received in response to a national request for proposals. Projects receiving funds were selected for the quality of the artistic practice; for making visible communities that are too often invisible or exploring critical themes that arise from, or impact a community; and finally, for the project’s capacity to enable social change. The grants will enable artists and culture-bearers to work with their organizational partners to support community processes, and to create and disseminate new work.


matika wilbur

Photographer Matika Wibur’s documentary “Project 562” challenges stereotypical images of Native Americans. Wilbur’s photographs will offer an authentic, renewed perspective of Native people associated with each of the country’s 562 Federally Recognized Tribes. 

The one and two-year awards, ranging from $37,000 to $157,000 and totaling $1,345,000, support artists and culture bearers working in places from Haines, Alaska and Brooklyn, New York to LaConner, Washington and Long Beach, California. These projects are addressing contemporary issues including incarceration, cultural heritage, and immigration, among many others. In addition to the diverse geographic, ethnic, cultural, and gender communities addressed by the artists’ projects, awardees’ work spans a broad range of artistic activity, aesthetics, genres, and artistic disciplines.

Surdna Foundation’s President Phil Henderson said, “In an era of accelerated and often dramatic social and demographic change, artists and culture bearers play critical roles within our communities helping us understand and challenge pressing issues. Their visions, communicated through film, performance, text, spoken word and other forms can help communities achieve a sense of connectedness and common purpose.”

In commenting on the breadth of artistic practices and broad segments of society represented in the grant awards announced today, Henderson continued, “By acknowledging, valuing, and supporting artists representing a diversity of communities—including those whose work is often ignored, silenced, or marginalized—we are investing in building stronger, more just and sustainable communities."


titus kaphar
Visual artist Titus Kaphar’s grant winning project, the “Jerome Project” highlights the urgent need for reform in our criminal justice system. Kaphar will engage with currently and previously incarcerated individuals--all named Jerome--to create a series of paintings, sculpture, an experimental documentary, and community convenings.


“The proposals have helped us to understand the expanding definition of American culture and identity in very different ways,” said Judilee Reed, Director of Surdna’s Thriving Cultures program. “We learned how artists are addressing issues ranging from immigration to criminal justice to economic equality and practically everything in between. And through their creative practice, we as a society are finding pathways of empathy and understanding, and subsequently are emboldened to action, each on our own terms.”

About The Surdna Foundation
The Surdna Foundation seeks to foster sustainable communities in the United States -- communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures. For over five generations, the Foundation has been governed largely by descendants of John Andrus and has developed a tradition of innovative service for those in need of help or opportunity.  The Foundation’s support arts and cultural projects through its Thriving Cultures grantmaking program which is based on a belief that communities with robust arts and culture are more cohesive and prosperous, and benefit from the diversity of their residents. Surdna believes that artists and cultural organizations can help us explore shared values and spark innovation, imagination and advancement for our communities.


(Individual Artist)

Grant Amount
Project Summary
Arizona State University Foundation
Phoenix, AZ
(Joan Osato)

Nogales. A new play by Richard Montoya and Sean San Jose, with Visual and Community Engagement Design by Joan Osato.  The artists are creating an immersive platform for a play that includes a state-wide community engagement project, film, media, and site specific installation and interventions in Arizona.

New Haven, CT
(Titus Kaphar)

The Jerome Project. Created by Titus Kaphar, this project highlights the urgent need for reform in our criminal justice system. Kaphar will engage with currently and previously incarcerated individuals--all named Jerome--to create a series of paintings, sculpture, an experimental documentary, and community convenings.

Brooklyn Arts Exchange
Brooklyn, NY
(Paloma McGregor)

Dancing While Black. Three interconnected initiatives that expand Dancing While Black’s engagement platforms beyond New York City’s Black experimental dance world in order to build community, develop agency, and shift the artistic and cultural landscapes.

Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Historical Society (GLBT)
San Francisco, CA
(David Weissman)
Conversations With Gay Elders. A series of single-character video documentaries of varying length, focused on older gay men. In addition to creating a repository of passing history, it will also function as a vehicle for facilitating inter-generational dialogue and understanding.
Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center
Haines, AK

Cultural Landscape exhibit. Planning, creating, and installing six original artworks for a Cultural Landscape exhibit to express the intimate relationship between the Chilkat Tlingits and their natural environment. The project will foster social change by informing and inspiring viewers and building greater understanding of the Chilkat Tlingit world-view that a balanced ecosystem is essential.

Junebug Productions, Inc.        New Orleans, LA

Homecoming Project 2015-2017. Three new place-based storytelling performance projects in the Ninth Ward, Treme, and Mid-City. Junebug’s Homecoming Project was initiated in 2011 to explore the meaning of home in post-Katrina New Orleans and to use art/culture to activate spaces to create social change.

Khmer Arts Academy
Long Beach, CA
Beloved. An interdisciplinary performance work which casts a history of ritual lovemaking into the dancing bodies of gay men. The project will engage community members in dialogue through public workshops, panel discussions, and live performance.
Los Angeles Poverty Department                                  Los Angeles, CA

Skid Row Museum and Archive. A new exhibition/archive/performing arts center curated by LAPD, utilizing art and historical consciousness to defend a neighborhood facing repeat and immense gentrification pressures.

Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts
Brooklyn, NY

being Here… in Memory. A cross-disciplinary exploration of mental illness’ impact on the lives of Black Americans. Curated by choreographer Marjani Forté, this research-based project includes visual and media art installations, performances, workshops, and discussions, all contributing to community learning and healing, and amplifying the voices of those most affected.

National Day Laborer Organizing Network
Los Angeles, CA
(Alex Rivera)

The Infiltrators. A cutting-edge documentary that tells the real and surreal story of five immigrants in America who get themselves apprehended by Border Patrol, and placed inside the shadowy system of immigration detention centers - on purpose. The film will be provocative, enlightening, and built by immigrant communities.

Project Row Houses        Houston, TX

OJBK FM Radio Project. Create space for residents to communicate a narrative of self-sufficiency and self-empowerment often embedded in Black communities.  As this neighborhood begins to change through gentrification it is more pertinent now to galvanize community through an historical sense of ownership.

Tacoma Art Museum
LaConner, WA
(Matika Wilbur)

Project 562. A multi-year national documentary project dedicated to photographing 562 Federally Recognized Tribes in The United States. Exquisite photography and oral history narratives will update 18th century stereotypical images of Native Americans with an authentic, renewed perspective.

Tectonic Theater Project
New York, NY

Square Peg Round Hole. A play about living on the autism spectrum. The play is built to engage and move audiences toward an informed national dialogue about autism in all communities, helping to remove the stigma around autism and paving the way for a new level of understanding.

Temple Contemporary
Philadelphia, PA

Pepón Osorio Installation. A commission of a significant new installation project informed by extensive community engagement that responds to the complex social implications of recent Philadelphia public school closings, with a focus on the Fairhill Elementary/Middle School and its neighborhood in North Philadelphia.

Women Make Movies
Brooklyn, NY
(Michèle Stephenson)

Perejil: The Genocide Continues. A documentary by Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, following families affected by the Dominican Republic Supreme Court ruling that strips citizenship from individuals of Haitian descent. The grant will support the U.S.-based production expenses and engagement campaign to U.S. communities, particularly to the Dominican/Haitian diaspora.

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Fostering sustainable communities in the United States — communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures.