Free Street Theater and Old Town School of Folk Music Awarded $50K Joyce Award Grants to Create New Works Celebrating Chicago Neighborhoods

Playwright Ricardo Gamboa is being commissioned to write a new play entitled Meet Juan(ito) Doe funded by a recent Joyce Awards Grant (photo courtesy of Mr. Gamboa).

Two collaborations between artists of color and cultural organizations in Chicago have each won $50,000 from The Joyce Foundation’s annual Joyce Awards competition.

The Free Street Theater will commission a new play, Meet Juan(ito) Doe, from playwright Ricardo Gamboa, and Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music will commission Quantum Music/Englewood from celebrated saxophonist and composer, Ernest Dawkins, and accomplished percussionist and sitar player, Rahul Sharma.

The Joyce Awards is the only program supporting artists of color in major Great Lakes cities. The Chicago-based foundation has awarded nearly $3 million to commission 55 new works since the annual program started in 2003.

​A distinctive feature of the Joyce Awards is that a winners' work must include the process of engaging community members to inform and shape their art. Community forums, workshops, panel discussions, social media input and one-on-one conversations will help influence each artist's final presentation.

“It is exciting to see such a powerful focus not only on the creative aspects of these works, but also on how the artists plan to involve diverse communities in their development and presentation,”said Joyce Foundation President Ellen Alberding.“We are confident these productions will do a great job of telling stories that can foster civic participation and cross-cultural understanding, and we are proud to support them and showcase the artistic talent of the Great Lakes region.”

​The 2017 Joyce Awards are managed by the Joyce Foundation’s newly-appointed director the culture program Tracie D. Hall.  Previously, Hall was deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and joins the Joyce Foundation with deep experience at the intersection of arts access and equity, literacy, youth and economic development. Her goals at the Joyce Foundation include maintaining the foundation’s presence as a supporter of Chicago’s dynamic cultural community and national advocate for racial equity and economic inclusion; supporting the next generation of arts and culture leaders and administrators; and helping build communities through the arts.

Renowned artist and activist Ricardo Gamboa will develop interactive installations in several Chicago neighborhoods to collect stories and experiences from Chicago’s Mexican and Mexican-American population. The information gathered through these installations and Gamboa’s first-hand community engagement will help him develop an original work of theater to be performed in the summer of 2017 at Chicago Park District locations in Little Village, Pilsen, and other predominantly Mexican and Mexican-American neighborhoods. In addition, on September 16, 2017 – Mexican Independence Day – a second version of the play will premiere at an indoor theater in Little Village for a six-week run. 

​"At Free Street, we are fundamentally committed to self-representation, to making theater by, for, with, about and in Chicago's diverse communities. We are thrilled to have the support of The Joyce Foundation in making Meet Juan(ito) Doe, a project conceived by Ricardo Gamboa that uses a grassroots and ensemble process to center the stories and contributions of Chicago's Mexican-American community," said Coya Paz, artistic director of the Free Street Theater. "At a time when families are being torn apart by deportations, when American citizens are being told they don't belong in the country that raised them, when being Brown or speaking Spanish is an everyday act of bravery, there is no more urgent time to invest in performance that tells the true stories of our city."

Renowned artists and educators, Ernest Dawkins and Rahul Sharma, will partner in creating a new work designed to engage 1,000 young musicians in an exploration of the musical heritage of Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. Dawkins and Sharma will compose a new piece that examines and celebrates Englewood’s rich and diverse musical heritage and work with groups of musicians of all experience levels to produce a culminating performance of the piece involving up to 1,000 musicians in Englewood.

"We’re thrilled to have this opportunity to work with such exemplary artists in a celebration of the musical heritage of a section of our city that is more often cited for challenges rather than artistic achievements," said Bau Graves, executive director of Old Town School of Folk Music. "The Joyce Award will set free voices that have long gone unheard."

Additional 2017 Joyce Award Winners include The Cuyahoga Community College Foundation in Cleveland to commission new jazz work by Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard; The Minnesota Center for Book Arts to commission renowned print and graphic artist Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. for a new exhibit as part of the center’s biennial celebration in the summer of 2017; and The O’Shaughenessy to commission the Minneapolis-based Ananya Dance Company to develop and stage a new production addressing women’s roles, work and global commerce called “Shaatranga.”

The Joyce Foundation maintains a mission to work with grantee partners to improve quality of life, promote community vitality, and achieve a fair society. The organization focuses grant making primarily on the Great Lakes region, and also has national impact through their program areas – education, employment, environment, gun violence prevention, democracy and culture.

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