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Rainin Fellowship Awards $100,000 Grants to Four Bay Area Artists

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An image of Amara Tabor-Smith's dance performance project 'House/Full of Blackwomen,' from the episode "passing/through/the great middle," 2018. (Robbie Sweeny)

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation announced today the launch of a new fellowship for artists working in dance, film, public space and theater. The Rainin Fellowship awards four unrestricted grants of $100,000 to help artists maintain their lives and practices in the San Francisco Bay Area. The inaugural recipients are Amara Tabor-Smith, Margo Hall, People’s Kitchen Collective (Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik, Jocelyn Jackson and Saqib Keval), and Rodrigo Reyes.

The fellows, whose work includes deeply vulnerable performance experiences, theater by and for people of color, food-centered art and activism, and creative approaches to documentary film, are described by the Rainin Foundation in today’s announcement as artists “who push the boundaries of creative expression, anchor local communities, and advance the field.”

The 2021 Rainin Fellows Amara Tabor-Smith, Margo Hall, Rodrigo Reyes and People’s Kitchen Collective (Saqib Keval, Sita Kuratomi Bhaumik and Jocelyn Jackson). (L to R photos by Jean Melesaine, Lisa Keating, Jennifer Duran, and Molly DeCoudreaux)

For Hall, whose many roles in the Bay Area theater world include actor, director, playwright and educator—and as of last year, artistic director of San Francisco’s Lorraine Hansberry Theatre—this fellowship provides a sense of validation.

“It solidified the fact that all the work I’ve done is paying off,” she says. “And not just because of the financial award of the fellowship, but because of the true recognition for the work I’ve done in the Bay Area.”

“I decided long ago that this was my home and I wanted to dedicate my energy and time to a community I believe in,” she continues. “I’m so happy that I did because I have built relationships that have carried me through my career and will carry me through my lifetime.”

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Rainin Foundation Chief Program Officer Shelley Trott says plans for the fellowship, which was administered by the national arts funding nonprofit United States Artists, predate the coronavirus pandemic and its toll on the local arts sector. While working on a strategic plan in 2017, she says, the foundation turned its attention to helping Bay Area artists thrive. It was clear just how many people were leaving the region, often forced to choose between their practices and affordability.

“We felt that it would be really important to have a program that provided direct support to individual artists at a level that would help them maintain a life and a living in the Bay Area given all the economic pressures,” Trott says.

Surveying other fellowships across the country and taking into account the Bay Area’s high cost of living, Rainin landed on $100,000 based on a year’s worth of living expenses. Because the grant is unrestricted, the fellows have complete freedom in their spending. They can even draw down on the total grant amount over a period of years, based on their needs and the tax implications of the added income. The fellowship also offers recipients help with financial planning, communications, marketing and legal services.

The fellowship is guaranteed to run annually for three years, but the Rainin Foundation anticipates it will continue beyond that term.

While the funding goes to just one artist (or in the case of People’s Kitchen Collective, a collaborative of three artists), the Rainin Fellowship is geared towards the enrichment of the entire Bay Area arts community. “We thought a lot about this concept of an anchor artist,” Trott says. “That’s an artist who’s deeply rooted in this community and in this region, who reflects the diverse communities of the Bay Area. And their practice also tends to uplift other artists as well, to influence and inspire.”

Still from Rodrigo Reyes’ film ‘499,’ 2020. (Alejandro Mejía/AMC)

Reyes, a Mexican director based in Oakland, says he moved to the Bay Area in search of that artistic community. His latest film, 499, follows a reawakened conquistador as he interacts with people in contemporary Mexico, and pinpoints the brutal legacy of colonialism in today’s humanitarian crises.

“I recently joined the Bay Area Video Coalition as the co-director for their MediaMaker Fellowship, which is a wonderful program that mentors filmmakers working on their first feature documentaries,” he says. “And being part of that has just really helped me to dig into a lot of the things that I love about Bay, which is the collaborative, open-to-dialogue experience, and the nourishing diversity of our space here.”

Another part of the Rainin Fellowship’s goal is to raise the profile of Bay Area artists—including those who don’t ultimately receive the grant. Trott says over 100 artists nominated by local experts in their fields were invited to submit applications, which were read by national reviewers and then a panel of local jurors, a process that introduced Bay Area artists to arts professionals across the country.

“I think it’s going to mean the world to the Bay Area,” says Hall of the Rainin Fellowship’s potential long-term impact. “Just the thought of having that kind of financial foundation will help you want to stay in the Bay.” Knowing that someone is keeping an eye on Bay Area artists’ work makes all the difference.

“There’s nothing like feeling like your community supports you and gets you,” Hall says.

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