Bay Area Artists Receiving Millions from Two National Foundations

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Miguel Zenon, one of ten recipients of a Hewlett 50 Arts Commission. Zenon is composing a piece for SFJAZZ called "Golden City Suite." (Courtesy of the Hewlett Foundation)

The Bay Area arts scene is anticipating an injection of millions of dollars after two national foundations announced the recipients of hundreds of grants this month.

The Hewlett Foundation and Bank of America are providing a combined $2.6 million to local artists and organizations in the form of commissions and economic mobility grants. The award recipients include performing arts institutions like the American Conservatory Theatre and classical ensembles like the Kronos Quartet.

Ten grants from the Hewlett Foundation, worth $150,000 each, will go to Bay Area organizations that are commissioning new works from "world-class" composers, expected to premiere over the next three years. The grants are part of the Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions, a five-year initiative by the foundation to spend $8 million on new works in all five artistic disciplines, in celebration of the Hewlett Foundation's 50th anniversary.

DJ SPOOKY, AKA Paul D. Miller, another Hewlett Foundation commission recipient
DJ SPOOKY, AKA Paul D. Miller, another Hewlett Foundation commission recipient (Courtesy of the Hewlett Foundation)

Among the 10 recipients of the Hewlett grants is local composer Jake Heggie, who is writing a piece to be played on instruments used by prisoners in World War II concentration camps; the Internet Archive, which is working with DJ Spooky on a multimedia project that uses an original "sonic web" instrument; and the Del Sol String Quartet, which is composing a series of songs and spoken word pieces inspired by the poetry written on the walls of barracks that held Chinese immigrants detained under the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Many of the proposals are political in nature, such as the one from the Kronos Quartet. The forward-thinking string quartet is commissioning a work from jazz musician Terence Blanchard that focuses on race relations called "At War With Ourselves." With words from poet Nikky Finney, the piece will explore aspects of race in America like social justice, civil rights, and resistance movements.


Kronos co-founder David Harrington says the group, known for being fearless with experimentation, is looking towards an "activist future."

"Increasingly I feel my role as an artist is to point in constructive musical and cultural directions as we attempt to help repair the torn fabric of our society," he said.

The Kronos Quartet perform with Wu Man at the Terry Riley Festival in San Francisco.
The Kronos Quartet perform with Wu Man at the Terry Riley Festival in San Francisco. (Evan Neff)

The grants from the Bank of America tackle another side of politics: economic mobility. This past year, the bank doled out $1.1 million to Bay Area non-profits revitalizing local neighborhoods. Among the artist organization recipients are the Asian Art Museum Foundation of San Francisco, the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the Oakland Ballet and the San Francisco Opera.

"With the cost of living in the Bay Area being one of the biggest obstacles to economic growth impacting neighborhoods and families, these grants support those nonprofits working to remove those barriers," Thong Nguyen, San Francisco-East Bay market president of Bank of America, said.

The Bank of America has more information on its economic mobility grants on its website. The full list of Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions recipients is also on the foundation's website.