18 LA organizations awarded grants from the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts

Consider it a much-needed boost for struggling, pandemic-era arts institutions in Los Angeles County.

The Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts is again this year doling out $400,000 in organizational support grants to local arts organizations to help them stay afloat during difficult times, it announced on Monday. The foundation has, since 2016, awarded annual artist project grants to local arts groups developing new work. In 2021 it pivoted, responding to the economic hardship brought on by extended closures and other pandemic-related issues with its first round of organizational support grants.

The 18 grant recipients for 2022 — again small to midsize groups with annual operating budgets under $5 million — will each receive $10,000 to $30,000 in unrestricted funds for operations and programming. They span disciplines including performance, poetry, music and multimedia art.

Two years into the pandemic, artists and arts organizations are doing “critical and transformative work” foundation Executive Director Mary Clare Stevens says in an interview.

“Even though a lot of them received emergency grants in one year, they’re still making up for significant losses after two years of shutdowns — income lost from tickets and fundraisers,” Stevens says. “And even before the pandemic, it was so hard to survive as an arts organization.”

Funds will also go to help organizations reinvent their programming for a new, opened-up world, Stevens notes.

“Many arts organizations created online programming during the pandemic, which represents, to me, an incredible amount of creativity,” she says. “Now many of them are looking to retain these sorts of hybrid models with both in-person and online programming because they’re reaching broader audiences, but that takes work — and it comes with a cost.”

The Mid-Wilshire Craft Contemporary museum received a $13,500 grant, which comes just in time, says Executive Director Suzanne Isken.

“There are a lot of things you didn’t tend to over two years — hiring new staff, fixing things that broke — the expenses are huge in coming back to the museum,” Isken says. “Every day you’re hit with a new surprise. We’re excited to show Luis Flores, a solo show opening Oct. 2, and this grant makes it possible.”

This year’s awardees were chosen by an independent panel, which kept an eye out for risk-taking groups with an innovative spirit, honoring the legacy of the late artist Kelley, who passed away in 2012. The panel included Naima Keith, vice president of education and public programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and LA-based artist Rafa Esparza, among others. Eight of the recipients were awarded professional support grants last year. Three of the recipients — Highways Performance Space, Active Cultures and Beyond Baroque — have never received funding from the Mike Kelly Foundation before.

The experimental Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica received a $30,000 grant, which will go toward “just keeping the space open,” says Executive Director Leo Garcia.

“Our earned income comes primarily from ticket sales, workshops and rentals — we present new programming 50 weeks a year,” he says. “In the two years we’ve been closed, we’ve lost about $250,000. So this money will be directed towards staff support and our insurance policies. It’s just a big relief to know we will be able to pay our vendors — and we’ll still be able to develop new performance works through other funders.”

All of the grantees are unique, Stevens says, but they’re all equally bold. “They’re all pushing and asking important questions in different ways, she says, “and part of our mission statement is provocation in the arts.”

Her parting messages for local arts audiences?

“I would just encourage everyone to get out and attend events, performances and exhibitions,” Stevens says. “Support these fantastic arts organizations at this critical time.”

Here’s the full list of 2022 grant recipients:

18th Street Arts Center, $25,000

Active Cultures, $10,000

Armory Center for the Arts, $26,500

Beyond Baroque, $25,000

Center for the Study of Political Graphics, $20,000

Clockshop, $25,000

Craft Contemporary, $13,500

Feminist Center for Creative Work, $30,000

Fulcrum Arts/homeLA, $20,000

Highways Performance Space, $30,000

Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (ICA LA), $20,000

JOAN, $15,000

LA Freewaves, $25,000

LAXART, $20,000

Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), $30,000

Los Angeles Poverty Department, $25,000

Pieter Performance Space, $20,000

Side Street Projects, $20,000

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