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The Office Performing Arts + Film Brings WPA-Inspired Initiative Artists At Work to U.S.-Mexico Borderlands States

8 Cultural Partners Will Host 21 Artists Across Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, and Texas.

June 23, 2022 - THE OFFICE performing arts + film, with $3 million of support from the Mellon Foundation, continues the national scaling-up of its Artists At Work (AAW) initiative, a workforce resilience program inspired by FDR’s Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) and its Federal Project Number One. Today THE OFFICE announces that, through a new partnership with the San Antonio Area Foundation, it is launching Artists At Work in San Antonio alongside the Borderlands activation, and reveals the eight cultural partners, known as Culture Hubs, that will host 21 artists working in locations across Arizona, New Mexico, Southern California, and Texas.

In the Borderlands, THE OFFICE has worked closely with lead partners Dr. Shelle Sanchez at the City of Albuquerque Department of Arts and Culture in New Mexico and Leia Maahs at the Southwest Folklife Alliance in Tucson, AZ to identify regional Culture Hubs that reflect different facets of the region’s wide-ranging cultural identities, practices, and narratives and are engaged in the deep and meaningful work of leveraging culture in service of the needs of their local communities: Border Arts Corridor, in Douglas, AZ; Casa Familiar, in San Ysidro, CA; La Mujer Obrera in El Paso, TX; the City of Albuquerque Department of Arts and Culture; and Southwest Folklife Alliance. These Culture Hubs will host a total of 15 artists.

Dr. Shelle Sanchez, Director of the City of Albuquerque Department of Arts and Culture, said, “The Keller administration continues to invest resources in the creative economy through programs like Tipping Points for Creatives, CityMakers, and now with this incredible national collaboration, Artists At Work. Creatives bring unique approaches to problem-solving. We look forward to seeing the positive social impact that the selected artists will make as they bring their artistic talents to the work of our local civic and cultural institutions.”

Leia Maahs, Executive Director of Southwest Folklife Alliance in Tucson, AZ, said, "We are interested in this work because of its ability to address systemic forms of oppression and uplift folklife as a tool for liberation. The residencies offered by Artists At Work will provide necessary recovery support to culture bearers and heritage-based artists in the Southwest who are deeply committed to the health and wellbeing of their communities. Through trusted relationships and a program design that will allow for the emergence of adaptive learning rooted in traditional ways of knowing, Southwest Folklife Alliance is committed to supporting artists as they address the issues their communities face in the world today.”

In San Antonio, three Culture Hubs—The Public Theater of San Antonio, The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and Carver Community Cultural Center—will host six artists between them. The organizations will select the artists and social impact initiatives with which they will soon work.

"Artists at Work San Antonio honors the communities and artists that have long made San Antonio the cultural heart of our region and we're excited to support our launch alongside the Borderlands,” said Stephanie LaFroscia, Director of Grants and Community Engagement at the Area Foundation. “AAW San Antonio reflects our commitment to a robust and inclusive cultural landscape and aligns with our role as a collaborative leader, supporting generative partnerships across sectors and recognizing artists and culture-bearers both for their role in sustaining communities and as catalysts for equitable recovery and growth in our regional economy."

THE OFFICE, in collaboration with the FreshGrass Foundation, conceived AAW early in the COVID-19 pandemic, as artistic communities were ravaged, careers were halted, and dire financial struggles ensued. AAW aims to address an urgent need to reimagine the culture sector and how we value artists’ role in society—a need that the pandemic has starkly revealed, and that will continue as the public health crisis abates.

Artists At Work is designed to support the health of local communities through artistic civic engagement. The program pays artists to keep making art and to apply their skills and creative thinking in support of their communities; gives support to cultural organizations (called Culture Hubs) and arts workers in that community to host and work with those artists; and connects both artists and cultural organizations to local social impact initiatives or community partners working in areas like child welfare, food and housing security, antiracism, physical and mental health, justice reform, sustainable and equitable development, environmental justice and climate resiliency, and immigration.

Participating artists receive a salary for a period of one year, using the MIT Living Wage Calculator for their respective region as a guide, as well as full healthcare benefits. Following their participation in the program, they are eligible for unemployment benefits, and may continue healthcare coverage under COBRA if they choose. Artists working in any artistic discipline qualify for the program; they must be local to the region, and actively interested in a social practice.

THE OFFICE Founding Director Rachel Chanoff said, “Artists are workers whose work product is crucial to the health of every society. Communities flourish when artists are woven into the everyday fabric of our lives. The intersections of the Borderlands region include not only the national borders of the United States and Mexico, but those of sovereign tribal nations and indigenous homelands. We are eager to support and connect artists of all kinds through the program, including traditional artists, culture bearers, and cultural practitioners."

In each regional activation of AAW, The OFFICE engages a local AAW Field Administrative Fellow to support the implementation and evaluation of the program locally and play a vital role in communicating with regional program participants. Artist and educator Gabriela Yadegari, whose work is largely informed by their upbringing in a multicultural household in Tucson and the larger diverse creative community of Arizona and the surrounding states, will serve in this role in the Borderlands region and work closely with the Field Administrative Fellow in San Antonio to coordinate support service for artists.

In addition to the Borderlands and San Antonio regions, the national expansion of AAW includes an activation in Los Angeles, in partnership with the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture; and the Mississippi Delta region, in partnership with the Sipp Culture; and the Greater Chattanooga Thrive region, in partnership with ArtsBuild and the Lyndhurst Foundation.

For more information, please visit https://www.artists-at-work.org/.

About the Borderlands Partners

The City of Albuquerque Department of Arts and Culture, in Albuquerque, NM

Albuquerque is a culturally rich community, due largely in part to the efforts of the City's Department of Arts & Culture. With 19 Public Library branches, two museums, two performance theaters, a zoo, aquarium, botanic garden, and popular fishing ponds, numerous large- and small-scale family-friendly events and activities, a vast array of Public Art, the historic plazas of Old Town, government/community television, and much more, the department sustains Albuquerque's quality of life at a high level for residents and visitors alike. The mission of the Department of Arts & Culture is to enhance the quality of life in the city by celebrating Albuquerque's unique history and culture, and providing services, entertainment, programs, and collections that improve literacy, economic vitality, and learning in state of the art facilities that enrich city life and increase tourism to Albuquerque.

Southwest Folklife Alliance, in Tucson, AZ

Our mission is to build more equitable and vibrant communities by celebrating the everyday expressions of culture, heritage, and diversity rooted in the greater Southwest and U.S.-Mexico Border Corridor. Nationally, we amplify models and methods of cultural work that center traditional knowledge. We are a non-profit affiliate of the University of Arizona in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the State Folk & Traditional arts partner for the Arizona Commission on the Arts through the National Endowment for the Arts. We do this by 1. Producing festivals and public programs that increase understanding and respect for folklife practices, 2. Providing direct support to heritage-based artists in the region. 3. Documenting folklife and amplifying the voices of artists and cultural workers engaged in folklife practices. Our role is to create, uplift, and maintain the platforms where artists and ethnic/traditional/heritage innovators animate the foundation of community, and their folklife, on their own terms.

Border Arts Corridor, in Douglas, AZ

Border Arts Corridor (BAC) is a nonprofit organization, committed to serving both Douglas and its sister city across the border. BAC began as a series of small outdoor art experiences on G Avenue, the major street in downtown Douglas. This ultimately grew into a bi-national Artwalk, then an arts service organization, creating opportunities for artists on the border. BAC is proud to focus on creating art with and for the Douglas and Agua-Prieta communities, bringing together artists of national stature with the artists living and working on the border. As nationally recognized artists have begun to interface with the community through BAC, it has cultivated a sense of pride and community self-esteem. At the same time, investment in the artists already living and working on both sides of the border here has strengthened a sense of self and civic engagement for residents.

Casa Familiar, in San Ysidro, CA

Casa Familiar is the leading service and community development organization in the community of San Ysidro, California, providing over 40 bilingual programs and services at six different sites in the community. Programs range from Civic Engagement to Health & Social Services, Arts & Culture to Education. The Arts & Culture arm of Casa Familiar was strengthened 15 years ago with the foundation of The FRONT Arte & Cultura, a community art space, performance and meeting venue for artists and residents. Since then, the FRONT has been organizing art exhibitions, such as the Annual Dia de la Mujer Art Exhibition, that soon became a tradition in San Diego and it is now celebrating its 15th anniversary. Our paid Art Docent Program, paid Workforce Development and Art Apprenticeship Programs for youth have been happening for 6 years now. Over 80 youth have benefited from those programs. We also organize workshops, performances, talks and several other artistic and cultural events relevant to the binational artistic life of our community, while also keeping an eye and participating in the international arts scene.

La Mujer Obrera in El Paso, TX

The mission of La Mujer Obrera is to develop and use our creative capacity to express the dignity and diversity of our Mexican heritage, from indigenous Mesoamerican roots to contemporary expressions, and to develop and celebrate our community through economic development, community building, community health and civic engagement. La Mujer Obrera has been located since its inception in 1981 in what was known as the Garment District. La Mujer Obrera has been grounded in an educational approach that prioritizes both a community-based praxis and values local knowledge, specifically from working-class Mexican women in the local community.

Our collective vision in La Mujer Obrera is to create a thriving community in which Mexican heritage is continually affirmed and celebrated, where Mexican arts traditions are fully known, acknowledged for their artistic merit, and shared in a free, intergenerational space. We have used teatro, murals, music to express the struggles and aspirations of the workers and our community. We work with intention in the Chamizal neighborhood, dedicating years of organizing and cultural events planning to strengthen its cultural identity and social bonds. By centering ancestral art and cultural practices (food traditions), we create alternatives to contamination and blight that exist in our community.

About the San Antonio Partners

The Public Theater of San Antonio produces live professional theater that inspires, educates, and connects communities. The Public Theater works to produce high quality theatrical productions year-round in multiple venues contributing to its reputation as the city's center for professional locally-produced theater as well as contributing to the city’s economic and cultural growth. Theater for all serves as our vision as an arts center for South Texas. The Public Theater of San Antonio is the longest running theater in South Texas, producing shows in one of the country's oldest municipally run playhouses. It was established in 1912 as the San Antonio Dramatic Club and incorporated on April 6, 1927 as the San Antonio Little Theatre. The Public Theater has seen many company and leadership changes over the last century, operating as a community theater and transitioning in 2017 to the only AEA union theater of professional productions produced here in San Antonio. Under new leadership as of Fall of 2021, The Public Theater of San Antonio is transforming and growing, focusing programming and outreach efforts on developing new audiences, better reflecting the diverse people of San Antonio, and working to contribute to San Antono's vibrant cultural economy and quality of life.

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center

 

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center is a 35-year-old multidisciplinary arts and cultural organization, built around a vision of social justice and cross-cultural understanding. We are committed to serving low-income and marginalized communities, preserving San Antonio’s unique cultural heritage, and nurturing local and emerging artists.

Esperanza produces and presents programs that provoke dialogue, honor traditional cultures, nurture new aesthetics, renew the soul, break stereotypes, build communities, emancipate people, and educate about the critical importance of art and expression. Esperanza preserves and promotes artistic/cultural expression of and among diverse communities. We believe that to create positive social change, individuals must be culturally grounded, confident in their voices, and certain of the value of their contributions. Art and culture connect us to our histories and plant the seeds for our self-worth. We seek to increase access of marginalized groups to artistic expression and bridge communities through accurate and respectful cultural understanding. From our MujerArtes Clay Cooperative to year-round exhibits, our annual Mercado de Paz and Paseo por El Westside festivals, to the gathering of oral histories of our elders, Esperanza celebrates the power of art to transform lives.

Carver Community Cultural Center

The Carver Community Cultural Center (The Carver) is a multicultural and multidisciplinary performing and visual arts center with an emphasis on preserving and celebrating the artistic and cultural contributions of the African Diaspora. Located in the heart of San Antonio’s east side community, the Carver’s history as a cultural and civic hub dates back over 100 years; serving first as the library for San Antonio’s black community during segregation. Today, the Carver harnesses the power of the arts to build community, strengthen cultural identity, support development and nurture health and well-being. By collaborating with artists from throughout our community and around the globe, the Carver presents performances, arts education and community engagement programs that support a more inclusive, equitable community rooted in the belief that all individuals, communities, and cultures have value. The Carver further believes that equitable access to arts experiences and education is an essential right and critical asset in supporting the health and well-being of all individuals and communities.

San Antonio Area Foundation

The San Antonio Area Foundation (SAAFdn) has served as the region’s community-giving headquarters for nearly 60 years, growing to become one of the top 20 community foundations in the nation. The Area Foundation serves as San Antonio’s most trusted and impactful philanthropic partner, managing more than 500 charitable funds with nearly $1 billion in assets. The Area Foundation supports hundreds of nonprofits every year – including nearly $72 million at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 – and operates more than 100 scholarship funds and has granted more than $37 million invested in our future leaders since 1969. Learn more at saafdn.org.

About THE OFFICE performing art + film

THE OFFICE performing arts + film develops, produces, and presents art that makes a difference. THE OFFICE works with artists across all disciplines who strive in their practice to illuminate and advance causes that move them, and we partner with presenting organizations that bring meaningful (and fun!) work to the public. Our goal is to create spaces for art to do the things it’s so good at doing, in our individual lives and our collective life in society as a whole: to uplift and inspire, to explain and reveal, to entertain, to challenge and hold to account, and to act as a catalyst for change.

We are an independent performing arts and film curator and production company based in New York and London that works in ongoing partnerships with festivals, venues, and institutions to create cultural programming that is unique and mission specific. We produce events around the world and consult on programming with organizations ranging from museums to universities to libraries to performing arts centers to philanthropies. We work in both the nonprofit and commercial arts worlds, and we have a special focus on making art happen that has a positive impact on society.

As creative producers, we help artists we love to realize their vision by taking projects through all stages of creation: from concept, creative development, fundraising, and commissioning to tour planning, company management, and performance. We are honored to have produced work around the world with William Kentridge, Carrie Mae Weems, Angelique Kidjo, Theater of War, Rithy Pahn, and many others. Social justice and equity, race, gender, sustainability, and democratic ideals are common threads in the projects we help put out into the world.

As curators of performance and film we work in partnerships with all manner of institutions and organizations to create cultural programming that speaks to these partners’ missions and responds to the communities they serve.

We also draw on our experience as producers and curators to help institutions think through or rethink what their cultural platforms look like. We specialize in working with a new institution or venue before it opens to design its artistic program and operational model from the ground up.

As a business, we strive to create a culture that is inclusive and supportive. Everyone on the team has a voice, and our process is highly collaborative; we learn from one another, and we have a lot of fun doing what we do. Part of our project as an office is to develop a young generation of creative producers and curators whose perspectives will help to shape how art functions in society, as we move forward together into the exciting unknown of the future.

About the Mellon Foundation

The Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.