Greater Lansing’s arts scene survives through determination and GRIT grants

The pandemic has been tough on us all, but has brought unique challenges to artists and arts organizations. From event cancellations to businesses being forced to adopt new selling practices, the sector was hit hard.

The Arts Council of Greater Lansing recently received $200,000 from the American Rescue Plan; and with these federal funds, they’ve created a new program: Gaining Recovery in Transition (GRIT) grants, which offer money to individual artists and nonprofit arts and cultural organizations throughout the region.

GRIT grants offer support in COVID-19 recovery while also helping ignite the GRIT our region is known for — especially in the arts and culture sector. Below, Arts Council team members and previous grant recipients talk about the importance of programs like these.

The deadline to apply for a GRIT Grant is July 1, 2022. The Arts Council is offering support, including one-on-one consultations for those interested. Learn more at lansingarts.org.

Arts grants are not just for artists

Arts grants are an important resource, not just for creatives, but also a community at large.

Keyonni James

I like to believe that for a city to thrive it needs several elements, and two important ones are a strong economy and a vibrant arts culture. Of course there are other factors, but a strong arts culture keeps people engaged in their community and with each other; it inspires them to see the beauty in humanity through creative vision and fosters ingenuity.

It is for these reasons that arts grants are important. They provide a resource which fosters the creativity and ingenuity of a community. They signal to creatives — and those who are exploring their creative ideas and potential — that their work matters, that their own individual perspective and interpretation for creative work is valuable.

When I discovered that the Arts Council of Greater Lansing provided arts grants, I was so excited and grateful and I was honoured to be a recipient of their Chris Clark Fellowship grant in 2021. I’ve lived in other cities outside of Lansing which did not offer these opportunities, and I truly appreciate that we have these grants available in our region.

Keyonni James is a Lansing native and MSU graduate who is an experienced voiceover artist, audiobook narrator and producer.

What the community needs, deserves

“When we want to create something new, who do we turn to?” This is a common question in the creative community, and we want everyone to know there is support available just for them.

Taylor Haslett

They don’t have to do the work alone. Whether it’s a desire to create a free arts program to benefit the community or to sign up for a personal development course for self-betterment, they deserve to feel supported. That is where the Arts Council comes in. We exist to support artists and arts and cultural organizations so they can do what they’re called to do: CREATE.

When money becomes available for artists and organizations, it’s important that they are as accessible as possible. Organizations can’t do their programming if they can’t keep their lights on. The Arts Council is proud to say that many of our grant programs have limited restrictions — meaning we get to offer the creative community what they need most, the chance to support existing work while also managing looming overhead costs.

Our GRIT Grants Program offers support to both organizations and individual artists. It allows organizations the basic support they need right now — funding that offers room for them to breathe a little easier as they continue their creative programming for their communities. When it comes to individual artists, GRIT Grants make it possible for them to do what they need to do, which is to create work. As an artist develops a project, having funds from a grant to cover their time, talent and materials is the best kind of support they can receive.

The GRIT Grants Program is putting new money into the community. It’s not being reallocated from somewhere else, so it is giving a fresh boost to the sector that will build on what we’ve been doing as a council and what they’ve been doing as creatives. As the membership and program manager, it means so much to me to work with applicants for these grants.

Helping community members get the funding they need to create their passion projects, grow their arts businesses and see their organizations thrive is the best part of my work at the Arts Council. I can’t wait to see the applications we receive and what the grantees are able to accomplish. This program will provide not only what the community needs, but what it deserves.

Taylor Haslett is the membership and program manager for the Arts Council of Greater Lansing and an active performer in the theatre community.

GRIT grants help us address inequities

The goal of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) is to provide pandemic relief, and the Arts Council is extremely proud to be distributing these ARP funds through the GRIT Grants Program. This opportunity brings feelings of excitement and gratitude for us — what an honor to grant these funds — but it also forms questions like, “We have one shot, how do we do this right? How do we make the most impact?”

Tabor Vits

As a community, we know that the arts aren’t as supported as they should be. We know that they are often the first to lose funding in budget cuts. We understand the challenges that artists face, the nature of nonprofits and capitalism and how the pandemic has worsened existing inequality worldwide. In the context of all this, we ask ourselves, “What can one $200,000 grant program do?”

First and foremost, we know that grants need to change. To name a few examples: fewer hoops to jump through to receive funds, easier application processes and more diversity among recipients. At the Arts Council, we’re working hard to make these changes — to center equity and accessibility at the core of this program.

GRIT Grants will prioritize funding applicants who can demonstrate financial need, showing how the pandemic hurt their artistic practice or the organization they serve — and which of these individuals are serving communities with limited access to the arts due to factors like socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender, language and race. To help people prepare successful applications, we hosted numerous grant workshops at area community centers and are holding regular office hours to provide hands-on assistance with applications.

This piece of the program — explicitly addressing inequities — is the most exciting part of GRIT Grants for our team. We have a chance to not only support local artists and arts and cultural organizations but also to change how we administer grants as an organization and to impact the wider grant landscape here in the Capital Region. We are excited to see all the good the GRIT Grants can do in the community and are looking forward to implementing new practices at our organization for future grant programs.

Tabor Vits serves as program assistant at the Arts Council and as a teaching artist at All of the Above Hip Hop Academy.

Grant programs bring the arts full circle

Sandra Seaton

As a playwright/librettist, who strives to bring African American stories to diverse audiences, I cannot overemphasize the need for the kinds of grant support provided by the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. Grants serve to bring the arts full circle. A community, their local government, the arts organization, the individual artist, they are all important parts of a collaboration. On some level, we are all involved in the arts whether through school programs, church celebrations, or holiday events like the upcoming Juneteenth. A belief in the arts and the contribution it makes to our society energizes our beloved community and makes it a healthier place.  

I encourage individuals working in the arts to consider applying for an Arts Council grant. The actual process of applying for a grant from the Council gave me the opportunity to sit down with a member of their staff and clarify my own ideas.

As a Black woman working in the arts, it would be easy to feel isolated. The welcoming and supportive atmosphere at the Arts Council, their willingness to answer questions about their grant process, makes applying for that multi-page monster called a grant so much easier than one would expect.

Through an Arts Council grant, I was able to attend the national conference of the Black Theater Network in order to bring creative ideas and performance strategies back to our diverse community. On another occasion, I requested funding to be used towards the purchase of a new computer. A dependable, up-to-date computer is a necessary tool for my work as a playwright.

Besides the support the Council offers with grant applications, they are a great source for any arts related concerns. We are so lucky to have the Arts Council of Greater Lansing in our community.

Sandra Seaton is a playwright/librettist from East Lansing. Her play with music, “The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson,” starring mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, will premiere this summer at the Glimmerglass Festival.

Lansing Children’s Choir has benefited from arts grants

As an organizational member of the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, the Lansing Children’s Choir has been fortunate to receive the benefit of having many wonderful grant opportunities. Over the years, we have successfully written and applied for two separate grants. We received a Michigan Arts and Culture Council (MACC) Minigrant, which enabled us to obtain funding to continue to provide choristers with educational and choral activities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ben English

As the choir was not able to meet in person, the artistic staff of the Lansing Children’s Choir wanted to find a way to continue engaging choristers beyond weekly virtual rehearsals. This was accomplished through the creation of “choir boxes,” which each chorister received monthly.

Each box contained educational materials, including music theory worksheets, brief histories of the music being sung, a musical craft, and an encouraging note from the artistic staff. This allowed us to stay connected with the students and gave them something extra to look forward to.

In 2022, we were also awarded a Young Creatives Grant to help continue our free Music, Art, Drama and Dance camp (MADD Camp). Each summer, the Lansing Children’s Choir provides a free camp for up to 60 youth in the Greater Lansing area.

The camp provides youth an opportunity to experience a rich introduction to elements of theatre, choral singing, dance and movement activities, as well as other various mediums of art such as painting, ceramics, or other visual arts. This grant has allowed the Lansing Children’s Choir to provide a free lunch for every camp attendee, as well as hiring qualified staff to teach each discipline.

These grants have been very important to our organization, and are a testament to the important role arts and cultural grants play in providing opportunities to the community and ensuring arts education is available to all youth who want to participate. I encourage all artists and arts organizations to take advantage of the granting opportunities the Arts Council provides.

Ben English is a lifelong Lansing area resident, executive director of the Lansing Children’s Choir, and community engagement and special projects manager at Wharton Center.

Our grant helped us provide free community dance classes

I first learned of The Arts Council of Greater Lansing a few years ago while working with Adam Williams, executive director for the Christians of Greater Lansing (COGL) Network, and I was amazed to find so many grant opportunities available to arts administrators like myself.

Summer Thomas-Reed

Several months later, I applied for one of their City of Lansing Mini Pocket Grants for Art for Great Commissions Studios free dance program. If I’d have known in advance how easy it would be to apply, I would have done it much sooner. The application process took me from breakfast to lunch, and six weeks later, I had a check in hand.

The grant helped to fund free dance classes to the Greater Lansing Community. The project launched in the performing arts room at Reach Studio Art Center in Lansing, allowing us to make more community connections.

Over the course of eight weeks, we were able to provide 42 free classes from this location alone, and we hosted participants of diverse backgrounds from all around the region. One parent, whose child received 10 free classes, stated that she would not have been able to provide dance for her child had it not been for the project.

In July of 2021, Great Commission Studios moved to its new permanent location in Haslett. Great Commission Studios Corp. struggled as a new non-profit in the Lansing area, with very limited resources to provide programming. But due to the generosity of the Arts Council, we were able to make ends meet in the very beginning. Now, only a year later, we are preparing to open our second location in Grand Ledge.

The City of Lansing Mini Pocket Grant was the first grant ever received by the Great Commission Studios Corp. The day that we were notified that we had been awarded the grant was a great day of triumph!  Afterward, we were able to win more funding, in large part due to the Arts Council’s recognition.

Summer Thomas-Reed is the founder and executive director of Great Commission Studios Corp. (a 501 c3 nonprofit) dance school chain.

The process is easy, offers a ton of support

Grants are very important for my organization, Opportunity Arts, and that is why I am happy to say that I have always found the Arts Council of Greater Lansing’s application process to be quite easy.

Mike Marriott,

All applicants have to do is go to the Arts Council’s website, and search for grants under the programs tab. Everything is right there. Then, all interested parties have to do is choose the grant they want to apply for and get started with filling out the application. It’s very similar to applying for a job. The Arts Council staff also offer plenty of support. They are always ready to answer any questions grant applicants may have about the specific grants they are applying for.

As a former grantee, I am truly impressed with the Arts Council’s dedication over the last few years in finding new grant opportunities for not just the large non-profit arts organizations in our region, but for being proactive in finding, providing and administering grants, such as the City of Lansing Mini Pocket Grants for Art, and the new GRIT Grants that actually compensate individual artists and artistic entrepreneurs for creating and producing work in our region.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how our Opportunity Arts Affiliates, will utilize these funds to invest in their artistic endeavors and artistic businesses if selected. Through grants like these, our amazing roster of artists at Opportunity Arts will be able to grow their collections, create new work, grow their notoriety and make a greater impact with their art. By utilizing these funds to invest in themselves, their work and their individual businesses, they will be able to not just build community, but establish an entrepreneurial arts industry in Greater Lansing and beyond.

Mike Marriott, “The Arts Promoter,” is the owner of Opportunity Arts, and the Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Arts & Culture Commission for the City of Lansing.

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