About five years ago, Letitia Lopez, executive director of Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center, discovered that only 2% of Cleveland arts grants were going to Latinx artists. “Of course, that was unacceptable,” she says of the numbers. “We had to look into why this was happening.”
Lopez recognized a need for more Latino artists to connect with funding and other types of support, so she set out to implement programs that address that need. In 2019 Lopez created Unidos por el Arte to support local Latinx artists beyond simply selling their creations.
Through Unidos por el Arte Julia de Burgos has highlighted more than a dozen Latinx artists—from Julia Sosa’s project to direct and premier Veronica Maldonado’s "Valentina y La Sombra del Diablo" in 2020; to actress, entrepreneur, and “Burlesque Queen” Bella Sin; to entrepreneur, photographer, and activist Manny “Che” Stantiago—just to name a few.
In 2019, Lopez hosted an event at 78th Street Studios for 22 Latinx artists. “It was such a success, it really reinforced my idea for this initiative,” she says. “There were all these artists in a room, talking and establishing relationships. It was such a success that [78th Street Studios] owner Daniel Bush asked us to keep the exhibit up another month.”
Through Unidos por el Arte Julia de Burgos has highlighted more than a dozen Latinx artists like artise Manny "Che" Santiago whose artwork is shown here.Lopez says the event helped her launch her dream of showcasing and supporting Latinx artists in Cuyahoga County. “It was the beginning of the initiative I wanted to create,” she says. “It was just something I wanted and there was definitely a need.”
The program is now a growing collective of Latinx artists who not only have a peer group, but Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center also provides creative opportunities, events, professional development tools, and artist resources at the Center’s campus at 2800 Archwood Ave. in the Brooklyn Centre neighborhood.
At the same time Lopez was searching for a way to support local Latinx artists, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) was assessing how it could ensure its grants supported more underrepresented and historically marginalized artists. Lopez, knowing the need for a diverse talent base in the arts, served on the planning team for CAC’s new Support for Artists grants—a program that works with nonprofit organizations to deliver support and services to creatives, scientists, and makers to provide funding, support, and access to physical space and new connections.
Since 2019, more than 200 artists, including Lopez, have directly benefitted from SFA grants—with an estimated 70% of the artists who received funding and 55% of overall participants in the programs and events identified as people of color.
Lopez and Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center have relied, in part, on the SFA grants to expand their offerings and raise awareness of Latinx artists in Northeast Ohio. Now in its third year, Unidos por el Arte has grown contiunously.
“By providing project-based funding through Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center, we’re helping artists get the support they need and build relationships that make our arts community more collaborative and inclusive,” says CAC executive director Jill Paulsen.
Last year, six artists received $5,000 grants through Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center’s SFA funding. “We had some really great projects,” says Lopez, adding that the program celebrating Hispanic History Month in September and October had to go virtual because of the pandemic.
But the virtual environment proved to be beneficial, Lopez says, with artists participating from as far away as Texas, New York, and Mexico. “It was really cool it happened that way,” she says. “And every week we presented one of the projects that happened through [the SFA fund].”
This year, CAC provided $70,000 in funding to Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center to allow 10 artists to receive the $5,000 grants. The remaining funds are used to administer the program and to provide artists access to the Center and other resources to support the work.
Lopez says 12 applications have been submitted so far, and they are still coming in.
“We have 10 artists this year and we’re super excited about the artists,” she says. “We’ve had all kinds of applications coming in—filmmakers, graphic designers, decorators, painters”
But Lopez says the SFA program goes beyond just grant money for the Julia de Burgos artists. “We also offer support,” she says. “We have plenty of space at the center to work.”
In addition to the financial support, CAC's Paulsen says they have the same goal of offering complete support.
“We know it is essential to compensate artists for their time and talents, and [we] also heard clearly from local artists that support can look like many things,” says Paulsen. “We look forward to seeing the creative projects that will come to life in 2021 with CAC funding.”
Other organizations receiving 2021 Support for Artists grants are: