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The Black Seed Receives $5 Million Mellon Foundation Gift

This lead gift supports an initiative led by Brooklyn’s Billie Holiday Theatre and aimed at allowing Black theatres to thrive.

BROOKLYN, N.Y.: The Billie Holiday Theatre has announced that the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has given a $5 million lead gift to support the Black Seed, a national strategic plan to create impact and the room to thrive for Black theatre institutions and initiatives. According to a release, this is the largest one-time investment in a Black theatre initiative. The Black Seed is led by the Billie Holiday Theatre, the CRAFT institute, Plowshares Theatre Company, and WACO Theatre Center.

“With the converging pandemics of COVID-19 and ongoing racial injustices, the Black Seed stands on the shoulders of Black theatre leaders who came before and centered the work by us, for us, about us, and near us,” said Dr. Indira Etwaroo, executive artistic director of the Billie Holiday Theatre, in a statement. “The Black Seed is not focused on the diversity and inclusivity efforts of predominantly white institutions nor artistic work by and with Black artists that will be viewed by predominantly white audiences. As we conceived the Black Seed over the last year, we aimed for it to be a brand agnostic endeavor that is not individualistic, or the re-entrenchment of a scarcity model geared toward anointing a select few institutions. This optimistic enterprise is less about game-changing money and more about changing the game. The Black Seed is a synergistic solution to a long-standing problem of inequitable funding; we are greater, as a sector, than the sum of our parts. This historic gift by the Mellon Foundation is a profound symbol of hope in these uncertain and unprecedented times.”

The fundraising goal for the Black Seed is $10 million, comprised of individual donors and private and public funders. This fund will then support multiple initiatives. The first is a national think tank of Black theatre leaders with the goal of issuing up to 50 multi-year impact grants that focus on replicable models that develop and leverage national partnerships, new artistic commissions, institutional capacity-building, and systemic shifts toward greater equity for Black theatre institutions. These one- to three-year grants will range from $30,000 to $300,000.

Also included will be the Black Seed National Leadership Circle, which “invites major donor investments for the Black theatre field,” and a national marketing campaign dedicated to telling the story of Black theatre in America.

The Black Seed will also fund a cohort of national networks and coalitions that will meet twice per year in an effort to continue moving the Black theatre field forward. The cohort includes Black Theatre Commons, Black Theatre Network, Black Theatre United, the International Black Theater Summit, Project1Voice, and We See You, White American Theatre.

“The Black Seed will play an essential role in giving Black artists, theatres, and creative communities the firm financial stability they need to soar,” said Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander in a statement. “We are thrilled that Mellon has made a commitment of historic magnitude to this strategic initiative, and look forward to the transformative and deeply necessary creative work this initiative will support.”

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