17 San Jose arts groups receive funding to engage Silicon Valley

At Knight, our goal is not to just fund artistic excellence, but to seek out projects that authentically engage their communities. Each year, we fund projects big and small that experiment with ways to reach new audiences, and to keep the current ones wanting more.

Today, I’m excited to share that we are funding 17 organizations in San Jose, Calif., both large institutions and grassroots groups that strive to put the community at the center of their work. Together, they are receiving $630,000 for their efforts.

In the list below, you’ll find some theater groups that are experimenting with new technologies and strategies. City Lights Theater Company, for example, had a character in a play this spring created through artificial intelligence, and projected on stage with animation. Opera Cultura invited the community to participate in a staged reading of an experimental opera based on the Mexican classic “Bless Me, Ultima.” And next fall, Naatak, one of the country’s largest Indian theaters, will present a new Hindu work on the often sensitive subject of Indian widowhood.

We’re excited by several projects too that are invigorating public spaces by turning them into their stage. San Jose Taiko, for example, which tours nationally, is playing to the home crowd with free pop-up performances citywide. And The Commons will continue its immersive performances in the city’s parks. You can catch them on June 24 at St. James Park for a blend of big band jazz and a quilting bee.

The Silicon Valley Ballet also is planning an exciting collaboration this fall – one of the largest between Cuban and American performing arts organizations since the revolution. The ballet will be the first American company to present Cuban choreographer Alicia Alonso’s “Giselle,” and programming will contextualize the recent opening of relations between the two countries.

I’ll be in San Jose over the next few days, meeting our grantees and getting to know the cultural community better. I’m excited to see many of these projects develop, and the opportunity to learn from their progress.

Victoria Rogers is vice president for arts at Knight Foundation.

Here are our 2014-15 San Jose grant recipients:

Backwater Arts ($25,000) Promoting San Jose as a hub for innovative art by expanding Anne and Mark’s Art Party, founded as a private gathering, into a multiday, visual and performing arts event at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. The 2014 expansion included a juried component curated by an advisory panel of museum leaders.

Max Tachis, left, and George Psarras play hotshot game developers. Photos by Mike Ko for City Lights Theater Company.

City Lights Theater Company ($30,000) Experimenting with new storytelling techniques through the production of “Build,” an original piece by Michael Golamco focused on two fictional Silicon Valley game creators.  The play features a third character – a woman built through artificial intelligence by one of the characters after the death of his wife – represented onstage with animation and projection.

Empire Seven Studios ($15,000) Supporting growth of San Jose’s cultural landscape beyond downtown SoFa and into Japantown with the expansion of the E7S Mural Project, which will bring in renowned street artists.

MACLA/ Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana ($25,000) Supporting the premiere of  “57 CHEVY” – a one-man play written by Cris Franco and performed by renowned actor Ricardo Salinas. “57 CHEVY” tells the story of a young Mexican-American man’s journey in the back seat of his father’s 1957 Chevy, as he traverses physical and cultural borders on the way from Mexico City to the San Fernando Valley.

Naatak ($30,000) Supporting the September premiere of “Vrindavan,” an original Hindi play that addresses the sensitive issues surrounding widowhood in India, with dance, music and humor. Knight funding will also support a mainstage theatrical production for Naatak in 2016.

Opera Cultura ($20,000) Engaging the community in helping to create and perform a stage reading of a new, experimental opera based on “Bless Me, Ultima,” a well-known work in the Mexican-American literary canon. The video recording will air on YouTube in the fall and there will be a post discussion about the work as well.

Seeing Things Gallery ($10,000) Engaging San Jose residents in an act of culture by inviting them to send postcards made by visual artists at a mass art-mailing event in early 2015. The Print Exchange Program offered an artistic, analogic alternative to the digital culture pervasive in the region.

San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art ($50,000) Engaging San Jose audiences with a solo-exhibition of cutting-edge LED light installations by renowned Bay Area artist Jim Campbell.

San Jose Jazz ($50,000) Engaging San Jose at-risk youth in the arts by expanding Progressions, an El Sistema-inspired program that provides high-level, after-school music training to local K-12 students.

San Jose Museum of Art Association ($50,000) Helping the museum expand public programming beyond the museum’s walls with events surrounding two exhibitions: the ongoing “Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknowns” – a group exhibition addressing digital surveillance in the post-9/11 world; and the 2016 “Border Cantos: Richard Misrach | Guillermo Galindo” – a cross-disciplinary response to immigration across the U.S-Mexico border, an issue that has shaped San Jose for the past 350 years.

San Jose Taiko ($20,000) Bringing art into unexpected places by having this renowned Taiko group create site-specific performances that interact with spaces around the city. The free series offers a rare chance for San Jose residents to see another side of this Japanese drumming group, which tours nationally, as it allows different environments to influence its art.

Silicon Valley Ballet ($50,000) Celebrating Cuban culture through “The Giselle Project,” the first production of Cuban choreographer Alicia Alonso’s “Giselle” by an American company, and one of the largest collaborations between Cuba and an American performing arts company since the revolution. Public programming will also re-contextualize the recent reopening of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Silicon Valley Creates recognizes Artist Laureates.

Silicon Valley Creates ($20,000) Strengthening San Jose’s growing cultural community by supporting the 23rd and 24th annual Artist Laureate Awards, recognizing contributions to the cultural life of Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley Creates ($100,000) Raising awareness about cultural events in San Jose and in other Knight communities by developing four online tools that work with the organization’s Artsopolis online calendar site to promote the arts in underserved communities.

Tabard Theatre Company ($20,000) Supporting innovative theater in San Jose with “10 in 10 Perspective!” – a production of 10 10-minute plays written by local playwrights, with a photograph by a local photographer serving as a catalyst for each story. In the upcoming season, Tabard will complete this process by producing a full-length version of the 10-minute play “Swift Justice.”

Photo: The Commons

The Commons ($15,000) Bringing art into people’s everyday lives by hosting a free, immersive performance and concert series in public parks throughout San Jose. The July 24 event at St. James Park, for example, will feature an Americana fairytale aesthetic and showcases performances from the 7th Street Big Band and soprano Rachel Larsen, as well as a “hipster” quilting bee sponsored by the San Jose Quilts and Textiles Museum.

The School of Arts and Culture at Mexican Heritage Plaza ($50,000) Creating opportunities for small and mid-sized arts organizations to present their works by offering access to the facilities as well as technical expertise at Mexican Heritage Plaza. Artists and arts organizations will in turn create further access for live music, art, theater and dance in the surrounding neighborhoods of East San Jose.

Two Fish Design ($20,000) Engaging San Jose regional audiences with the Eighth Annual SubZERO Festival held on June 5-6, 2015 featuring a diverse gathering of innovative artists, performers and musicians. SubZERO is an annual showcase of emerging and thriving subcultures that has grown to more than 16,000 attendees.