Mellon Foundation Funds National Initiative for Black Theaters

Mellon Foundation Funds National Initiative for Black Theaters

Dear Patron, Artist, & Friends:

As a founding member of the National Advisory Committee, I am both honored and humbled to announce an initiative that feels like it has been ushered into existence by the sheer force and perseverance of our ancestors.

Today, The Billie Holiday Theatre announced a $5 million lead gift by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, historically the largest one-time investment in a Black theater initiative to support The Black Seed, a national strategic plan to create impact and thrivability for Black theater institutions and initiatives.

Check out the coverage of The Black Seed in The New York Times: https://t.co/jbGoeBHdjQ

This initiative is unprecedentedly helmed by a Black-led artistic institution, The Billie Holiday Theatre, founded in 1972 in response to the Civil Rights and Black Arts Movements and theater home to the largest African American community in the nation – Central Brooklyn – in collaboration with three Black-led institutions, The CRAFT Institute, Plowshares Theatre Company, and WACO Theatre Center. The Black Seed National Initiative serves as a synergistic paradigm shift for systemic change in the arts and culture world with a multi-pronged strategy that includes: The Black Seed Fund fueled by investments from private and public funders to support a national think-tank of Black theater leaders, collectively tackling racial injustices and inequities with up to 50 multi-year impact grants that focus on replicable models that will develop and leverage national partnerships, new artistic commissions, institutional capacity-building, and systemic shifts towards greater equity for Black theater institutions; The Black Seed National Leadership Circle, which invites major donor investments for the Black theater field; a cohort of national networks and coalitions, comprised of Black Theatre Commons, Black Theatre Network, Black Theatre United, The International Black Theatre Summit, Project1Voice, and We See You White American Theatre that will convene twice a year to move the Black theater field forward; and a national marketing campaign to tell the story of Black theater in America.

The Black Seed embodies the words of Richard Wright, as Black theater institutions – “fling [ourselves] into the unknown . . . to see if we could grow differently, if we could drink of new and cool rains, bend in strange winds, respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps, to bloom.”

The Black Seed Think Tank will convene at the Black Theater Network’s annual conference with Black theater leaders who serve predominantly Black communities and who produce, present, and/or commission new works and classic works, readings, conversations, festivals, summits, and conferences, and/or performance art, as well as Black-led institutions, focused on Black audience development, all rooted in the full diversity, complexity, and intersectionality of the Black experience. This Think Tank will receive multi-year financial and marketing investments – countering decades of disinvestment and inequitable funding practices. Based on the Helicon Collaborative’s research, an estimated $4 billion dollars in philanthropic support is given by foundations to arts organizations. Almost 60% of that support goes to the largest 2% of organizations, all predominately white-led and serving predominantly white audiences. The other 98% of organizations split the last 42% and arts organizations serving communities of the global majority shared only 4% of those investments. Grants awarded will support innovative initiatives to strengthen Black theater infrastructures to better serve Black theater artists, audiences, and communities. Up to 50 Black theater institutions will be awarded one to three-year grants, ranging from $30,000 to $300,000 via a selection process by an adjudication panel consisting of experts in the field.

The Black Seed’s three-year national strategic initiative has a fundraising goal of $10 million to be comprised of private and public funders, as well as individual donors.

An RFP requesting proposals from Black theatre institutions will be announced in October 2020.

For more information about The Black Seed National Initiative, please email TheBlackSeed@restorationplaza.org

I hope you will consider applying and/or spreading the word!

In service,


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