Here's a question for all you programming directors out there. Are you exploring your community's relationship with its immigrant population to its fullest potential? If not, you may be missing out on some interesting — and potentially lucrative — funding opportunities.
The thought occurred to us upon discovering that the Henry Luce Foundation awarded a $20,000 grant to Pennsylvania-based Bethlehem's Touchstone Theatre toward the completion of its two-year, community-based project Journey from the East. The project concludes with free, large-scale, outdoor theatrical productions in April 2015 featuring American and Chinese epic mythology.
It's no coincidence that the theatre is embracing Chinese mythology. The Lehigh Valley region has seen a growing influx of Chinese professionals, students, and visitors in recent years. In fact, Touchstone Theatre artists began gathering stories from Asian residents back in 2013 as part of a larger project that captured the region's Chinese community, which dates back to the 19th century.
The Luce Foundation has been a consistent proponent of Chinese culture in the region. For example, it helped fund the construction of the Chinese Harmony Pavilion, based in Bethlehem, in tandem with Lehigh University. (Not coincidentally, Henry Luce's parents were missionary educators in China at the start of the 20th century.)
The funding for Journey from the East came from the foundation's Asia Program, while Touchstone's programming is supported by Shubert Foundation and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. What's more, the program itself is a highly collaborative one. Producers include representatives from Lehigh University and Moravian College, as well as Deng Dafei and He Hai, directors of the Beijing-Hangzhou visual arts collective called the Utopia Group.
The Luce grant echos a recent gift from the MacArthur Foundation to Chicago's Field Museum. That award funded a project titled "Art and Anthropology: Portrait of an Object as Filipino," which enables the exchange between five Filipino artists from the U.S. and five from the Philippines, and produces 12 new works of art from the process. But once again, the museum's decision to partner with Filipino artists wasn't an arbitrary one. Filipinos represent the highest percentage of foreign-born immigrants in the city.
You'll note that both of these projects share two common ingredients. One — and most obviously — they embrace fast-growing immigrant communities. And two, the programs are collaborative in nature, acting as a kind of cultural exchange between artists based in the U.S. and Asia.