Richmond’s Neighborhood Public Arts Mini-Grant Program was designed to make anyone feel like they could be an artist. Yet to the dismay of many who were passionate about the program, it lost all funding in June.
Michele Seville, Arts and Culture Manager for the City of Richmond, said she was “crushed” when she heard the news. The program’s objective was “to give people an entry into the arts that’s accessible,” she said.
The mini-grant program was started in 1997. For the past several years, $65,000 from the Arts and Culture Division budget, derived primarily from the city’s General Fund, has supported the grants to community art programs.
One of the last projects funded by the program is the new community mural unveiled at the Richmond Community Park on the corner of MacDonald Avenue and Harbor Way on August 27th.
Local artists Ross Holzman and Izabella Tschig created the mural with the help of a $5,000 mini-grant and 250 community members who gathered on the lawn outside of City Hall to paint squares of the mural, with generations of families often painting together.
“Artwork really reflects the joy, the creativity, and the passion of the people,” said Holzman, who is also Executive Director of the Create Peace Project.
Gemikia Henderson, Video Production Coordinator at RYSE Youth Center, said the program cut was a loss to community youth. Henderson received an $8,000 grant this past year to produce “Fairytale,” a multimedia performance that focused on teen dating violence and sexual assault in Richmond. She said she was inspired to apply for the grant after seeing older members of RYSE, including Donte Clark and Nya McDowell, use the mini-grants to fund their own productions.
“It’s frustrating,” said Henderson, that younger kids will now feel that they “have nothing to look forward to.”
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said he views the program cut as unfortunate but necessary. “We had some extreme budget cut challenges,” he said. “A lot of things got cut out.”
He added that the city continues to fund other arts programs and institutions, including the Love your Block initiative, the Richmond Arts Center and the East Bay Center for Performing Arts.
“Richmond is not abandoning the arts,” he said.
Richmond Arts Commissioner and local artist Jenny Balisle said she is on the lookout for new funding opportunities to continue the mini-grant program. But the city’s withdrawal of support will make it difficult to secure outside grants, she said, as it signals a “lack of confidence” in the program.
“We have to provide hope and give people a chance to speak,” said Balisle. “It doesn’t matter what zip code you live in, your voice matters.”