Roberta Uno, Ford Foundation

TITLE: Senior Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Performing and visual arts, and classical arts

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: A dedicated grantmaker in the arts at Ford, Uno has a personal onus of "developing and sustaining vibrant arts spaces that can serve as artistic exemplars and promote cultural diversity and public participation."

PROFILE: Speaking at The New York Times Art Forum, Roberta Uno voiced a simple observation that has formed the core of her grantmaking strategy: "What we found when talking with our counterparts in Asia, Africa, and Latin America in our foundation process of planning is how critical physical spaces are, particularly in marginalized communities." As senior program officer of arts and culture at the Ford Foundation, Uno's work falls under the heading of Supporting Diverse Arts Spaces.

Uno seems comfortable in the role of lone innovator. In her first year at the Ford Foundation, she launched a research and funding initiative unlike any other, called Future Aesthetics: the Impact of Hip Hop on Contemporary Performance. This led to the Future Aesthetics Regrant Program (FARR), which gave artists support for self-directed projects. In 2004, she wrote about her inquiry and findings for Theater Communications Group:

About seven years ago, while running the New WORLD Theater of Amherst, Mass., I decided to leave the familiar comfort of a dark theatre to see where young adults, particularly those of color, are passionately committed as audiences and artists of their own volition. This led me to B'boy and DJ events, poetry slams, fraternity and basketball-step performances, and open mikes — in short, places where I was the oldest person in the room. But once I got over the age disparity, what I encountered was artistic virtuosity, experimentation and large, dedicated audiences defined as community.

To Uno, hip-hop is just one example of the "changing models of arts organizing." She fears people too often lament the unsustainability of arts organizations in the current economic and technological climate without noticing the subcultures and unsanctioned, youth-led arts events that happen to be thriving. You don't have to be into hip-hop, but if you are willing to shake off the shackles of old models, listen to youth, and embrace unconventional gatherings and spaces, Uno may take notice.

Roberta Uno has a long history of directing and dramaturgy supporting multicultural theater. As an artist, teacher, and administrator, Uno is dedicated to giving voice to minorities. She is best known for founding and directing New WORLD Theater at the University of Massachusetts. Since 1979, New WORLD has produced plays and performances by artists of color. Her books, The Color of Theater: Race, Culture and Contemporary Performance, and Contemporary Plays by Women of Color: An Anthology, were borne out of her work in the trenches of performance diversity. Uno has been honored for her life's work by Cornerstone Theater Company. She also won a 2007 Ovation award for her direction of I Land, a stage performance combining theater, dance, comedy, hula, and hip-hop.

The Ford Foundation is clear about what it funds and what it doesn't. The Supporting Diverse Arts Spaces initiative targets visionary, innovative, publicly engaged organizations that are making an impact. Funds are intended to support emergent, newly opened, and established facilities for planning through renovation. Ford will not fund arts education, general operating costs, or individual artists or art projects.

Uno seems particularly drawn to new work with an interdisciplinary bent, which I Land perfectly exemplifies. Today, she is "looking at arts organizations that are actively engaged in artistic discussion, rigorous exploration, actually generating art," as well as "the issue of diversity and participation." She will check to see if your programming is truly engaging your community, and not just one slice of it. She will look for diversity among the board and staff—often telling of an organization's relevance and commitments. She will look for people creating the kinds of programs she did, only better.

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