City & MassArt Awarded $1.2 Million for ‘Radical Imagination for Racial Justice’ Program

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The city and MassArt received a $1.2 million award from the Surdna Foundation to support Boston-connected artists of color through the development of a new, three-year regranting program Radical Imagination for Racial Justice.

Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt), in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, will distribute funds to artists seeking to advance racial justice through collaborative projects in their communities.

“This is a huge moment for the city of Boston as we work to achieve equity in all sectors across all of our neighborhoods and communities,” said Mayor  Marty Walsh. “Boston artists have improved the city’s culture and vibrancy firsthand, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they use their art to creatively imagine a better future for our city.”

The award is part of a three-year artist regranting initiative through Surdna’s Thriving Cultures program, which will support up to 260 projects by artists of color working with their communities around the country to imagine and practice racially just systems and structures. Through this award, Boston and MassArt will redistribute Surdna’s funds to artists and will provide direct support and technical assistance.

The RIRJ program has been conceptualized and structured with an advisory group of Boston-area cultural community leaders, professionals, and youth; and supported by a team of teens and young adults. The mission of RIRJ is to support projects that authentically reflect the interests, visions, and participation of communities of color in Boston.

Artists, creatives, or cultural organizers who identify as ALAANA+ (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab or Native American), who are at least 14 years of age and live or work in Boston are invited to apply.

For the pilot year, the RIRJ program will make 15 grants: 10 grants of $1,000; two grants of $25,000; and three grants of $40,000. Self-nominations will be accepted starting May 18-June 8. In July, the $1,000-level grant recipients will be announced and a group of $25,000 and $40,000-level applicants will be invited to submit full proposals. All submissions will be reviewed by a community-based panel made up of self-identified ALAANA+ individuals. In September, the $25,000 and $40,000-level grant recipients will be announced.

“At the core of MassArt’s mission is serving the Commonwealth as a leader for cultural inquiry and new ways of seeing, thinking, and doing,” said Dr. Kymberly Pinder, MassArt Provost. “This new program and partnership with the city of Boston centers the role of artists as catalysts in imagining -- and creating -- a racially just Boston. We are grateful to be on this journey with the Surdna Foundation in supporting artists of color and investing in our communities.”

“As communities across our nation work together to survive COVID-19, artists are uniquely positioned to help us imagine and build a more just future in which we all can thrive,” said F. Javier Torres-Campos, Program Director of the Foundation’s Thriving Cultures program. “We are proud to partner with organizations that provide direct, on-the-ground support and technical assistance to artists of color. Our artist regranting cohort invests in the leaders and communities most impacted by injustice because they bring the necessary lived experience, strategies, and creativity to realize racially just societies.”

Among the 11 regranting partners, the city of Boston and MassArt collaboration is unique as a municipal-higher education collaboration, and as the only partnership with an emphasis on youth as both participants in the process and as potential grant recipients. The other regranting partners are national and regional in focus, and include several learning clusters of organizations focused on impacting prevailing inequities in arts grantmaking. Among the clusters are organizations focused on the U.S. South, local cross-sector partnerships between municipal governments and local arts nonprofits, and culturally-specific intermediaries serving Latinx and Indigenous communities.

RIRJ is led by Kara Elliott-Ortega, Chief of Arts and Culture for the City of Boston, and two MassArt program leaders Ceci Méndez-Ortiz, Executive Director of the Center for Art and Community Partnerships (CACP), and Chandra Méndez-Ortiz, Executive Director of Youth Pathways and Programs and Director of Artward Bound.

Kara Elliott-Ortega is an urban planner in the arts focusing on cultural organizing and the role of arts and creativity in the built environment and community development. Prior to becoming the Chief of Arts and Culture for the city of Boston, she served as the Director of Policy and Planning for the Mayor's Office of Arts and Culture.

Ceci Méndez-Ortiz is an artist and educator whose collaborative community building practices advance cultures of belonging, justice, and joy. For the past ten years, Ceci has led MassArt’s Center for Art and Community Partnerships (CACP), partnering with people and communities within and beyond MassArt to radically expand access to transformative creative experiences. Throughout her career she has partnered with artists, educators, schools, families, and community organizations to center relationships and art/design at the core of innovative partnerships. Prior to MassArt, her previous roles include curator and exhibitions director; museum educator; instructor in community-engaged courses in higher education; and teaching artist in Boston Public Schools. She is is a graduate of Brown University, and received her MFA from the University of Michigan’s School of Art and Design.

Chandra Méndez-Ortiz is an artist and educator who creates work and collaborative experiences that utilize a historical lens to share insight, create energy, and build momentum in addressing issues of social justice, access, and equity. Chandra is Executive Director of Youth Pathways and Director of Artward Bound at MassArt. Previously, Chandra worked with Boston Public Schools in various roles connected to community engagement, arts and educational leadership, and coaching. In 2011, she was awarded the prestigious Brother Thomas Fellowship for artistic excellence and vision by The Boston Foundation, and in 2018 she received the State Universities of Massachusetts Education Alumni Award for excellence in education. Chandra holds a BA from Florida State University, a Post-Baccalaureate degree in Painting from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and a Master of Science in Art Education from MassArt.

For more information, please visit The portal to accept self-nominations will be live on May 18.