LOS ANGELES — The Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts today announced the recipients of this year’s Organizational Support Grants, which will distribute $400,000 to 16 Los Angeles-based non-profit arts organizations. The unrestricted grants range from $10,500 to $30,000 and are intended to support small and mid-sized organizations with the ongoing challenges they face in the wake of the pandemic.
“By the time we awarded grants, they had been through eight months [of the pandemic]. Fundraising, which is often in person, had to be shut down,” Mary Clare Stevens, executive director of the Mike Kelley Foundation, told Hyperallergic. “Small non-profits are running year-t0-year. It was a huge hit that they’re still recovering from.”
The institutions selected in this funding round include the Armory Center for the Arts, Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, Feminist Center for Creative Work, Fulcrum Arts, Human Resources, The Industry, LA River Public Art Project, Los Angeles Filmforum, JOAN, LA Artcore, Los Angeles Poverty Department, Pieter Performance Space, and the Vincent Price Art Museum Foundation, as well as five organizations receiving awards for the first time: Los Angeles Nomadic Division, LA Artcore, Avenue 50 Studio, LA River Public Art Project, and the Velaslavasay Panorama.
Located in an old theater just southwest of downtown LA, the Velaslavasay Panorama may be one of the city’s most unusual art spaces. It houses a revival of a Victorian-era hybrid artform: a painting in the round augmented with lights, sound, and sculptural elements. The current panorama depicts a landscape scene of the city of Shenyang in China in the early 20th century. The grant will be used to create a companion installation of printed ephemera, dioramas, vitrines, and peepholes, adding context and information to the panorama.
“These grants recenter a commercial impulse, putting focus on what artists can and will create when financial success is not the guiding light,” said the Panorama’s co-curators, Sara Velas and Ruby Carlson.
The grantees were selected through an application reviewed by an independent panel that included Taylor Renee Aldridge, visual arts curator at the California African American Museum; independent curator and writer Michael Ned Holte; Clara Kim, chief curator and director of curatorial affairs at MOCA; and artists Alexandro Segade and Rosten Woo.
The Foundation was started in 2007 by Mike Kelley, the late LA-based artist whose diverse practice defined by a transgressive, playful, and personal spirit had a profound influence on his contemporaries and subsequent generations of artists. Its mission is to continue Kelley’s legacy by supporting exhibitions and publications, as well as offering grants to organizations and artists who are similarly driven by an ethos of experimentation and curiosity.
In 2016, the Foundation began offering Artist Project Grants focused on specific works or performances, and in 2021, it pivoted to Organizational Support Grants to help institutions cover operational costs in response to pandemic-related financial losses.
For Joseph Valencia, curator of exhibitions at the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM), even in 2023, support for nonprofits is still lagging.
“Individual giving levels have decreased by 30% since the start of the pandemic,” Valencia told Hyperallergic. “We are still working to rebuild that area of fundraising, so this funding is critical for ongoing operations and staff support.”
Andrew Gould of the Armory Center of the Arts, a returning grantee which has an exhibition program as well as an educational studio art component, says their earned revenue was cut in half by the pandemic. Funding from the foundation helped them “weather the worst” of the pandemic and pivot to new strategies such as virtual exhibitions, art supply deliveries, distance learning programs, and virtual field trips.
The open-endedness of the grant allows organizations to apply it to everything from day-to-day operations to new initiatives and forthcoming exhibitions and performances. John Birtle, managing director of the long-running Chinatown art space Human Resources, says they will use the money to plan a retreat with the board of directors and “keyholders,” a group of volunteers who help program and manage the collaborative venue. The volunteers who run the space — Birtle is the only employee — are rarely in the same room, so this is an opportunity “to have long conversations, break out groups, even just eat a meal together.”
Although grants were not tied to a specific project, applicants were required to list one project they would be presenting within the next year. Working at the intersection of art, performance, and homeless advocacy, the Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) will be creating an immersive installation in its Skid Row location. During the pandemic, LA County health workers converted motels and hotels into quarantine sites for unhoused people and those in crowded living situations.
“The staff were excited about what they achieved. They helped keep everyone alive and helped to get them appropriate housing,” LAPD’s founder, John Malpede, told Hyperallergic. “Everyone was together, engaged with one another, and with their patients.” The LAPD will be recreating the interior space of one of these motels, both as an installation and a site for public conversations around public health and housing advocacy. “It will blend the motel reality with a medical emergency facility just like it really happened,” Malpede says.
The LA River Public Art Project was founded in 2014 with the intention of revitalizing the area around the waterway with cultural projects and events that engage the community. With its grant award, it is planning to convene a civic art cohort of Native advisors, curators, artists, and community representatives “from all 51 miles of river,” said Executive Director Jenna Didier.
“As we look towards our 10th anniversary, we want to create a significant civic art statement on the river,” she added. “Offering the public a way of being even more hands-on in creating their own moments of magic.”