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White Snake Projects Wins $750,000 Mellon Grant to Encourage Innovative New Opera For Diverse Audiences

On the heels of their performances of Sing Out Strong: Remembered Voices, a musical commemoration of the overwhelming number of lives lost to the pandemic since the beginning of 2020, Cerise Jacobs and her activist opera company, White Snake Projects (WSP), are pleased to announce the award of a three-year grant from the Mellon Foundation designed for just the kind of purpose Sing Out Strong embodies so effectively: “to support visionary artists in their desire to combine a long-enduring art form and experimental technologies into contemporary narratives on behalf of a broadly diverse public.” The company plans to deploy the funding – totaling $750,000 – to build strong administrative leadership, augment its music staff, deepen its network of relationships with long-term social justice partners, and continue the industry-leading technological innovation that, while prominent before the pandemic, has taken center stage in the digital performance environment to which WSP has adapted with outstanding success. Perhaps most immediately, the grant will facilitate the hiring of the company’s first Managing Director, who will produce the 2022-23 season.

Jacobs comments:

“It’s hard to put into words what this grant means to us. It goes without saying that it’s transformative, but what does that really mean? It means we can hire our first employees, ever; have our first season, ever; pay collaborators fair fees; give our artists more resources; reach deeper into our communities; pursue work which will not generate financial returns, but which is so necessary and vital to us as human beings living in the complex interstices of the current world. Yes, this grant is transformative. But the most important thing to say is thank you, Mellon Foundation.”

White Snake Projects makes mission-driven work that unites artmaking with civic practice. It envisions a world where the power of opera expands the collective understanding of community and transforms lives through creative storytelling. The pandemic spurred the company to redouble its already significant efforts to develop new technologies and new ways of reaching diverse audiences, resulting in the live digital productions (with performers sheltering in place) of the Pandemic Trilogy: Alice in the Pandemic addressed the disproportionate strain of COVID-19 on communities of color and essential workers and was subsequently acquired by the Library of Congress for its Performing Arts COVID-19 Response Collection; Death by Life explored long-term incarceration and institutionalized racism; and A Survivor’s Odyssey dealt with the ongoing crisis of sexual and intimate partner violence. Establishing authentic connections with thought leaders in social justice has been critical to the exploration of these themes, ensuring that the work lives in an ecosystem of activism. White Snake Projects sees opera not just as performance, but as performance with purpose, a vibrant and vital art form that is also a champion of change.

In addition to its mainstage productions, WSP also produces the concert series Sing Out Strong (SOS), which expands on the theme of a given opera by soliciting song texts from the people in the community most concerned with and affected by those issues and intimately involving them in the creative process. Iterations of the series to date have been SOS: Immigrant Voices, DeColonized Voices, Essential Voices, Incarcerated Voices, and Remembered Voices. The company has also launched Let’s Celebrate!, an annual series presented in December to supplement traditional holiday programming with shows that more closely mirror the demographics of the communities WSP serves, drawing on diverse traditions like Eid al-Adha, Havdalah, the Spring Festival, Day of the Dead, Durga Puja, Eid al-Fitr and others.

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© 21C Media Group, April 2022


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