Announcing the Spring 2021 Creation Fund Awards


June 24, 2021  •  11 minute read

The image looks down on this scene from above: a Palestinian woman amongst waves and stone. She has brown hair and skin and is shaping her body against the curve of a stone, hands open and pressed on the surface covered with green yellow algae. She is wet and also half immersed in the surrounding, rippling blue-green water. Her dress is turquoise, eyes closed, face turning away.
Leila Awadallah researching movement in the Mediterranean Sea for TERRANEA: hakawati of the sea at Amalgam in Beirut. Photo: Romy Lynn Attieh.

The National Performance Network (NPN) is awarding an initial $345,000 and leveraging an additional $2,030,000 in support of the creation of 22 new artistic works. In addition to Creation Fund support, each project will receive up to an additional $10,000 in Development Fund support and be eligible for presentation support.

The Spring 2021 Creation Fund awardees represent new commissioned work by artists across the United States and Puerto Rico. These projects range geographically from Honolulu, Hawaii to Taos, New Mexico, and include a performance that follows the length of the Mississippi. Through theater, dance, podcasting, puppetry, boat-building, and community healing events, these works honor those displaced by colonialism, war, and gentrification; unpack queer family experiences; explore grief in BIPOC communities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic; tell stories of Black land stewardship in the South; and imagine the last day of the last prison.

The Creation Fund is phase one of a three-part program that supports the creation, development, and mobility of new artistic work advancing racial and cultural justice and resulting in live experiential exchange between artists and communities. The fund supports new work in its early stages, centering relationship building between artists, presenters, and communities.

The next Creation Fund deadline will be May 2, 2022 for projects premiering between January 1, 2023 and December 31, 2025

Learn more about the Creation & Development Fund.

The Creation and Development Fund is made possible with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts (a federal agency), and co-commissioners.


Spring 2021 Creation Fund Recipients

Project titles, descriptions, and timelines may shift.

Boni B. Álvarez (Los Angeles, CA) — Mount Banahao Stories (working title)

Co-commissioners: Skirball Cultural Center (Los Angeles CA), Miami New Drama (Miami Beach, FL), Ma-Yi Theater Company (New York, NY), and Playwrights’ Arena (Los Angeles, CA)

Mount Banahao Stories (working title) centers on the little-known account of the extraordinary humanitarian effort initiated by President Manuel Quezon of the Philippines to provide sanctuary to Jewish families seeking escape from Nazi Germany during World War II. More than 1,200 Jewish refugees rebuilt their lives with the aid of the Filipino people. Renowned Filipino American playwright Boni B. Álvarez will develop the play based on the accounts of 90-year-old Ralph Preiss, whose family escaped Germany to resettle in the Philippines when he was only eight. The play dramatizes how the sharing of culture and faith as well as a collective resilience of the human spirit emboldened a disparate group of people to survive.


Leila Awadallah/Body Watani (Minneapolis, MN) — TERRANEA: hakawati of the sea

Co-commissioners: Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, MI), Links Hall (Chicago, IL), and Arena Dances (Minneapolis, MN)

TERRANEA: hakawati of the sea is a dance performance searching for memories inside Arab diasporic bodies to reflect on notions of home while simultaneously asking, “What do the waters of the Mediterranean Sea remember?” In blurring researched realities and mythology-making, TERRANEA examines Palestinian experiences of occupation, refugee crisis (of land and sea), and politics around movement and nation within this body of water, only to depart into dream. A sea spirit, Terranea, emerges as mother for those lost in waves—welcoming souls of migrants into a mythical shared space, where world-making endeavors imagine a collective, fluid, unbound home.


Renee Benson and Vagabond Inventions (New Orleans, LA) — Requiem for a Stranger

Co-commissioners: Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans (New Orleans, LA) and the Foundry Theatre (West Stockbridge, MA)

Requiem for a Stranger is an expansive work of music, movement-theater, and community healing events called “Gorgeous Offerings” created by singer-composer Renee Benson and physical theater company Vagabond Inventions. This ensemble-devised project explores the heartspace of grief—an emotion mainstream American culture has continually denied and avoided, but which currently overwhelms our daily life. The project meets the moment of the COVID-19 crisis and addresses the particular burden of grief in BIPOC communities. Requiem will draw a diverse community into a process of honoring our losses and will help reshape our cultural relationships to grief and mourning.


Meg Foley (Philadelphia, PA) — Blood Baby

Co-commissioners: Painted Bride Art Center (Philadelphia, PA), Kelly Strayhorn Theater (Pittsburgh, PA), Kinsey Institute (Bloomington, IN), and Velocity Dance Center (Seattle, WA)

Blood Baby is a multiformat performance project that explores intersecting embodiments of gender, gestation, sexuality, family-building, and queer belonging. Made and performed by a community of queer artists, Blood Baby unpacks queer family experience and our creation stories. This multi-faceted production is grounded in, and informed by, queer parent convenings in which parents share their experiences and reflections. To expand understanding of queer lineage, Blood Baby is comprised of multiple iterations, utilizing immersive sculpture and dance installation, participatory performance, somatic workshops, storytelling, and video art, and will develop a network for queer parents to connect.


Foxfire Ranch (Waterford, MS) and free feral (New Orleans, LA) — We Are the Promised Land Podcast

Co-commissioners: Carpetbag Theatre (Knoxville, TN) and Mississippi Center for Cultural Production (Utica, MS)

We Are the Promised Land is a multimedia exploration of Black inheritance in Mississippi’s Hill Country. It centers on the Hollowell family of Foxfire Ranch and chronicles passing stewardship of the land to the next generation. Annette Hollowell and free feral interrogate regional familial legacies and traditions and explore what it takes to preserve the memory of our ancestors while healing the wounds still present in us all.


Lisa E. Harris (Houston, TX) — D.R.E.A.M (Diffraction + Restoration + Electromagnetic Analogue of Mass) = A Way to AFRAM

Co-commissioners: DiverseWorks (Houston, TX) and Ballroom Marfa (Marfa, TX)

D.R.E.A.M = A Way to AFRAM is a formulaic method of representing the expansion of the Universe to reveal safe spaces for all Black Beings to Be in their Black Bodies. Considering two dream spheres colliding—Black people resting in peace merging with Sounds of the Earth’s Dreams—Li Harris conducts an immersive performance installation research lab that transcends a sleep-inducing practice to explore the possibilities of optimal restoration and transformative dreaming occurring synchronistically. Using video projections, sound & movement, land/blood acknowledgments, and a suspended 11-foot black contrabass chime, Harris calculates a freeway to AFRAM, African-America.


KM Dance Project (New Orleans, LA) — Raw Fruit

Co-commissioners: Junebug Productions (New Orleans, LA), Ashé Cultural Arts Center (New Orleans, LA), and the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD!; Bronx, NY)

Raw Fruit is a new immersive dance–theater experience led by Kesha McKey and Catherine Caldwell of KM Dance Project. It is a collection of stories that reveals the essence of ancestral values which have been woven into the cultural fabric of our lives. This multidisciplinary work uses the technology of the kitchen to examine legacy, identity, socialization, unity, and friction inside the southern Black family. Using dance as the foundational medium this work is steeped in the movement, sound, and spirit of Black folks in New Orleans layered with visceral expressions of lineage, retention, and ancestral memory.


The Land Memory Bank (Saint Bernard, LA) and Mondo Bizarro (New Orleans, LA) — Invisible Rivers

Co-commissioners: Pangea World Theater (Minneapolis, MN), Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans (New Orleans, LA), and Mississippi Center for Cultural Production (Utica, MS)

Invisible Rivers is a project centered in Bulbancha, or southeast Louisiana, that employs the artistic practices of music, theater, and boat-building to respond to our region’s interconnected struggles against coastal land loss, environmental racism, and displacement. The Land Memory Bank and Mondo Bizarro, with lead artist Monique Verdin, are building boats in rapidly disappearing areas of our coast and hosting dialogues and performances on them. This project creates space for honest engagement with the unfolding catastrophe of land loss and environmental racism, and it does so on structures that float—as we all must—between water and land. The work physically models ideas about how we can learn to live with fluctuation, to live with uncertainty, to live in symbiosis with our increasingly watery world.


Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti (Honolulu, HI) — ahupuaʻa

Co-commissioners: ArtPower at UC San Diego (La Jolla, CA), Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center (Long Beach,) CA, and the Newman Center for the Performing Arts, University of Denver (Denver, CO)

Kanaka Maoli composer Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti will create a new string quartet for Argus Quartet. The subject of the new work will be the Hawaiian concept of “ahupuaʻa”—which explores community and land division—and will have a strong community engagement component. The work seeks to decolonize the concert hall be recentering Indigenous ways of knowing. Through radical Indigenous modernity—taking the sounds and language of Lanzilotti’s own heritage as a Native Hawaiian person as a starting point—ahupuaʻa explores decolonizing the senses to reclaim Hawaiian language and the way it changes how one views the world.


MKArts (Columbia, MD) – Hoptown

Co-commissioners: Dance Place (Washington, DC) and Pennyroyal Arts Council (Hopkinsville, KY)

MK Abadoo’s Hoptown is an immersive dance performance that seeks to envelop witnesses in the sistering methodologies of Black girls and women helping each other thrive over generations. It is inspired by the near-parallel lives of two women from Abadoo’s ancestral hometown of Hopkinsville Hoptown, Kentucky: her mother, Regina Bowden, and Black feminist writer bell hooks.


Papel Machete (San Juan, PR) — On the Eve of Abolition

Co-commissioners: Pregones/PRTT (Bronx, NY), Cara Mía Theatre (Dallas, TX), and Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA; San Jose, CA)

On the Eve of Abolition is an ambitious collaborative project led by theater and puppetry collective Papel Machete, working-class cultural solidarity organization AgitArte, and master maskmaker, puppeteer, and performative artist Deborah Hunt, all based in Puerto Rico. The story is set in 2047 and imagines the last day of the last prison in an immersive theater experience that incorporates rod and table puppets, shadow puppets, masks, projections, cantastoria (picture storytelling), and spatial sound.


Berette S Macaulay (Seattle, WA) and Tom Pearson (Nyack, NY) — [UN-TITLED] (working title)

Co-commissioners: On the Boards (Seattle, WA) and BRIC (Brooklyn, NY)

As a series of offerings and invitations, [UN-TITLED] is a site-specific, multi-locational intervention of gentrified cityscapes that aims to expose the loss of cultural spaces and community erasure and to craft a ceremonial honoring and reclamation of displaced peoples. Participants (artists included) are asked to locate themselves within the patterns of gentrification, locate home in themselves, and to naturalize through Right Relationship. It asks for a demonstration of responsibility to the land, air, and water, and to actively center the marginalized through art, sound, movement, performance, ritual, and community.


Lionel Popkin (Santa Monica, CA) — Orientation Event

Co-commissioners: Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT; Los Angeles, CA) and Dance Place (Washington, DC)

Orientation Event is a durational performance by Lionel Popkin unpacking the history of interculturalism within the nearly 30-year archive of his dance-making, placed in the context of the history of presentations of the Indian diaspora within the United States. Part performance event, part durational installation, and part social agitation on the history and assumptions that have attached themselves to performances of South Asian identity, Orientation Event is a personal response to the dubious history of interculturalism and seeks to expand the discourse around how brown South Asian bodies inhabit contemporary art and performance spaces.


Heather Raffo (Brooklyn, NY) — Migration Play Cycle

Co-commissioners: Art2Action (Tampa, FL), the Arab American National Museum (Dearborn, MI), and the Carver Community Cultural Center (San Antonio, TX)

Heather Raffo’s Migration Play Cycle is an ever-expanding narrative following migration and the global economy. Built in seasons that cycle across the world, it integrates live, local theater into a new immersive global web platform, allowing audiences to link the world’s migration patterns to the thousand transactions that make up their daily lives. Sprawling and epic, it is an ambitious map of a play, beckoning us to understand the way value itself migrates through currency, place, life, and time—especially as we approach the moment when all populations will have to confront not only global migration, but also their own.


Vanessa Sanchez & La Mezcla (San Francisco, CA) – Ghostly Labor

Co-commissioners: Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA; San Jose, CA), Su Teatro (Denver, CO), The Yard (Chilmark, MA), and Pregones/PRTT (Bronx, NY)

Ghostly Labor is a multidisciplinary dance performance documenting histories of profiteering and exploitation of female labor in the US–Mexico borderlands through percussion, video, tap dance, zapateado jarocho, and Afro-Caribbean dance. Director and Choreographer Vanessa Sanchez will partner with labor organizations to conduct interviews, collaborate with Son Jarocho musician Laura Rebolloso (Veracruz, MX), and work with animator John Jota Leaños (San Francisco). Performed by Sanchez’s company La Mezcla, this new dance-theater performance brings together percussive dance forms, an original musical score, and animated archival footage to illuminate the resilience, beauty, and strength of borderlands womxn at work.


Sandglass Theater (Putney, VT) — Feral

Co-commissioners: The Yard (Chilmark, MA), Bunnell Street Arts Center (Homer, AK), Next Stage Arts Project (Putney, VT), and Dancers’ Workshop (Jackson, WY)

Feral addresses the act of making visible and reclaiming the work of women through celebrating intuitive knowledge, how it is housed in our bodies, and how it can be used as a tool for individual and cultural repair. Navigating the tension between domesticated and wild behaviors, the project reveals and challenges the cultural construction of our identities in everyday life. The process encompasses research and interviews, imaging residencies, and performance creation.


Dani Tirrell (Seattle, WA) — FagGod: The Goddess Chronicles, Vol. 1

Co-commissioners: Central District Forum for Art and Ideas (Seattle, WA), On the Boards (Seattle, WA), and Risk/Reward (Portland, OR)

FagGod takes you into the world of Fag the Goddess, a drag performer at the height of the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic. She is guided by her faithful spirit guides—the DonnaBabas, Wueer femmes and butches who hold space for the Goddess to live her last days with dignity and grace—as she navigates a world of performance, faith, love, and death. FagGod: The Goddess Chronicles, Vol. 1 honors the lives lost in the early onset of the AIDS epidemic. This work is a remembrance of the Lesbian/Queer women and Trans men who created a space of love, care, and safety for those dying of AIDS.


Stages of Tectonic Blackness (Taos, NM) — Stages of Tectonic Blackness: Blackdom

Co-commissioners: 516 Arts (Albuquerque, NM) and New Mexico State University/ University Art Museum (Las Cruces, NM)

Stages of Tectonic Blackness is an ongoing series of durational performances and ritualized, elongated mourning rites for Black bodies/Earth bodies. It is an act of Black Queer resistance, decolonized time, and reimagined future. A collaborative performance project by Miles Tokunow, Nikesha Breeze, Lazarus Nance Letcher, and cinematographer MK, Stages of Tectonic Blackness tarries with the paralleled processes of dehumanization and extraction, emergence and rebellion, freedom, and accountability as sustained by Black bodies and Earth bodies. This work includes live land-based durational performance interventions, original music, a series of short films, and direct community engagement with Queer, Black, and Indigenous people.


Lisa B. Thompson (Austin, TX) — The Black Feminist Guide to the Human Body

Co-commissioners: Fusebox Festival (Austin, TX), the Vortex (Austin, TX), the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre (San Francisco, CA), and the Pyramid Theatre (Des Moines, IA)

The Black Feminist Guide to the Human Body is part performance, part health fair, and part block party. The raucous performance meditation includes stories full of joy, fear, sorrow, lust, hunger, confusion, pride, and shame presented by dancers and a chorus of Black women, girls, femmes, sisters, aunties, mamas, and nanas of various body types, skin colors, hairstyles, and personas. This show brings art, activism, and community together to center Black women, femmes, and girls as we explore the beauty and pain of inhabiting a Black female body from birth to death.


Helanius J. Wilkins (Boulder, CO) — The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging

Co-commissioners: RedLine Contemporary Art Center (Denver, CO), Legion Arts (Cedar Rapids, IA), Dance Place (Washington, DC), and The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (College Park, MD)

Rejecting finite points/products, The Conversation Series: Stitching the Geopolitical Quilt to Re-Body Belonging is an ongoing and always shifting dance-quilt that confronts and celebrates heritage, resiliency, justice, and hope. This collaborative, immersive work, performed by a male duet, preferences the value of bodies coexisting—sharing weight and responsibility, dancing to become better ancestors. Activating technologies of the body, tools, and toys in a non-colonizing fashion, this work centers belonging as a way to disrupt the erasure of silenced stories and forge paths towards justice and equitable landscapes.


Urban Bush Women (Brooklyn, NY) — Haint Blu

Co-commissioners: Live Arts Miami (Miami, FL), Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth (Hanover, NH), Junebug Productions (New Orleans, LA), The Yard (Chilmark, MA), and Williams College (Williamstown, MA)

Haint Blu is a new ensemble dance-theater piece from Urban Bush Women, shepherded by the company’s Co-Artistic Directors, Chanon Judson and Samantha Speis. Named for the color that Southern families paint their front porches to ward off bad spirits, Haint Blu aims to use performance as a source of supporting wellness. The project will tour to venues nationwide in a series of site-specific performances, tailored through residencies and community engagement activities to each of their partner communities.


Takahiro Yamamoto (Portland, OR) — NOTHINGBEING

Co-commissioners: Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA; Portland, OR), Chocolate Factory Theater (Long Island City, NY), and On the Boards (Seattle, WA)

NOTHINGBEING is a collaborative dance performance project by Portland-based choreographer Takahiro Yamamoto in collaboration with artists Samita Sinha, Anna Martine Whitehead, and David Thomson. This dance project investigates ways to embody and expose the presence of nothingness. Based on philosophical and physical research, as well as collective discussions about individual belief systems and embodied daily experience, this live performance will invite the audience to witness and participate in the state of between-ness and nothingness. The work incorporates highly physical improvisational practices, a communal meditation, a vocal circle, and stillness-based movement in order to achieve collective concentration and meditation with the audience.