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Meet some of this year's Opportunity Fund grantees

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Arts and Culture

Supporting individual artists is at the heart of everything we do in the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture. 

This summer, we’ll celebrate five years of the Opportunity Fund, a grant program that started out as a $100,000 pilot initiative at the beginning of the Boston Creates cultural plan, and has since become an integral piece of our recurring grant programming.

The program has evolved over the years, but the goal is the same: to make low-risk investments in local artists that help them share their work with the public or teach others, continue their professional development, and hone their skills. Over the years the grant has helped artists attend conferences and performances around the world, enroll in professional development opportunities, purchase equipment, and host community events like workshops, art classes, and poetry readings. 

This past fiscal year, we allocated $200,000 to the program, and tailored the grant to artists who have been impacted by COVID-19. We were amazed by many of the applications we’ve received so far, and the overwhelming response by local artists to use this funding to help connect communities through their art during such a difficult time.

Here’s a look at just a few of our grantees from the past several months: 

Leona Cheung

A collaborative pianist from Back Bay, Leona Cheung received an Opportunity Fund grant in the Artist Career Development category to purchase an iPad that would allow her to read sheet music during performances. During the pandemic, she was invited to several senior centers in the city to give live performances. She noted that seeing the audiences’ supportive reactions and smiling faces under their masks made her grateful that she’s able to continue doing this work in Boston. 

Photo of Opportunity Fund grantee Leona Cheung playing piano
Opportunity Fund grantee Leona Cheung performing at a local senior center, photo courtesy of the artist.

“As an artist, it is very meaningful to connect people and bring joy through music. Having the generous support from the grant to invest in equipment during this period of time means a lot for me to support my vision of being an artist.”  - Leona Cheung

Photo of Opportunity Fund grantee Leona Cheung playing piano
Photo of Opportunity Fund grantee Leona Cheung playing piano, courtesy of the artist.

Ernesto Lea Place

A professional aerialist and dancer from Jamaica Plain, Ernesto Lea Place used the grant to purchase an aerial rig that he and partner Caitlin Quinn can use when performing as the duo Pas de Deux Straps.

Photo of Ernesto Lea Place and Caitlin Quinn performing as Pas de Deux Straps.
Photo of Ernesto Lea Place and Caitlin Quinn performing as Pas de Deux Straps, courtesy of the artist.

As professional aerial circus artists we can easily struggle to find a space for practice, rehearsal, etc. Now, we have this impeccable piece of equipment that has endless possibilities. We’re truly looking forward to performing in local events, fundraisers and much more once this is allowed in our community again.”

Photo of Ernesto Lea Place and Caitlin Quinn performing as Pas de Deux Straps, courtesy of the artist.
Photo of Ernesto Lea Place and Caitlin Quinn performing as Pas de Deux Straps, courtesy of the artist.

Ernesto said one of his goals for his creative practice is to explore more collaborations with other artists of various backgrounds in the future. Watch a video he made this past summer.

Paula Coar

An artist from Roxbury, Paula Coar sews a variety of items and clothing for men, women, and children using material that comes from Africa. Throughout the pandemic, she has made hundreds of cotton masks. She received a grant in the Artist Career Development category to alleviate some of the financial burden she experienced due to COVID-19. 

Masks made by Paula Coar
Photo of masks made by Paula Coar, courtesy of the artist.

“Due to lack of income, with the grant I was able to pay my monthly fee for my website. I was also able to purchase all types of materials to make products, particularly women's clothes and accessories. The materials are hard to acquire, like pure cotton beautiful prints.”

AREA CODE Art Fair

AREA CODE was a free, month-long art fair that was developed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the extreme impact it had on artists, including cancelled performances and projects and closed venues. AREA CODE presented a range of free experiences across Greater Boston in partnership with nonprofits and local businesses. Their programming aimed to highlight marginalized voices, and key elements included racial justice, systemic racism, grappling with erased histories, and diversity and inclusion. 

Photo of AREA CODE's video art fair
Photo of AREA CODE's video art fair, courtesy of AREA CODE.

AREA CODE received an Opportunity Fund grant in the Community Arts Experiences & Events category to support operating some of the storefronts that were used as part of the event, as well as their public-facing online events and programs.

Photo of AREA CODE's video art fair, courtesy of AREA CODE.
Photo of AREA CODE's video art fair, courtesy of AREA CODE.

The Opportunity Fund operates on a rolling basis, and we are still accepting applications for this round of funding. We’re currently offering grants of up to $1,000 to artists who live in Boston, or who are looking to bring a free arts experience to Boston. Artists can learn more and apply online.

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